Fatima Robinson Talks Dance, Wesley Snipes, and ‘Coming 2 America’

Image from COMING 2 AMERICA — Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Karen Peterson/We Live Entertainment: Before we get into Coming 2 America, can you talk a bit about how you got into choreography in the first place?

Fatima Robinson: I grew up here in LA and I always loved dancing. I would film shows like Solid Gold and Fame and film music videos on MTV and watch those. I’m self taught in that way. I just loved to dance, it was a big hobby for me growing up. And then there used to be these 18 and over clubs in LA that I would go to that had big dance contests. People would see me dancing in those, and one of the people was John Singleton. He had just graduated from USC film school, and was like, “I’m gonna put you in my movie.” We’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” And I was an extra in Boyz in the Hood.

But later, when he was looking for a choreographer for a music video he was doing, he kept coming up with my name. He’s like, “I know that girl,” so he calls me and he tells me about this amazing concept. And oh, Iman’s going to be in it and Eddie Murphy. And all of a sudden, it ended up being “Remember the Time” from Michael Jackson. I did that when I was 21. Having that job at an early age made me really pursue it as a career.

KP: It’s so great when you get to have those moments in life when you’re young, and then here you are, all these years later, getting to getting to do the sequel that Coming to America.

FR: I know, so wild! And getting to work with Eddie Murphy again was amazing.

KP: How did you get involved in this film?

FR: Craig Brewer, the director, gave me a call. I was on a very short list of choreographers they were looking at, and we just had a great conversation and I threatened him that I would stalk him and cut him deep if he didn’t hire me. No, I’m just playing! {laughs} It was just a perfect match. And I worked with Eddie on Dreamgirls and some other films. It just felt right. All the planets aligned, and it worked out in my schedule, and it was just a fun, awesome thing to do.

KP: You get to do several different types of work for this film. There are so many different styles at play here. Where did you start?

FR: African dance. Yeah, the root of everything is African and with this one, definitely started with some drummers in the room and some assistants and moving our bodies and figuring out what worked, and what we felt would be beautiful for the funeral scene. And then Craig wanted to do the song, “Get Off” for one of the other scenes. So just working on that track, and figuring out how we can modernize it.

KP: What were some of the challenges?

FR: I don’t know if I would necessarily say they’re challenges, it’s just finding ways that the dance helps move the story forward. And making sure that you’re always hitting those beats for the actors, whether they’re comedic beats, or they’re just helping tell the story of what’s going on in the scene so it doesn’t feel awkward. So, that’s always a good and fun challenge to have.

KP: How many scenes did you choreograph?

FR: Some of them aren’t really necessarily dance. Whenever General Izzi, played by Wesley Snipes, will come in, we’d have all his soldiers and all that was choreographed. So we would call those General Izzi’s entrances. And we had a couple of those. Then we had our big funeral scene, and then we had the “Get Off” scene and then a couple of little things sprinkled here. There’s moments where people don’t necessarily think something was choreographed but it was. My job was to make it feel like it wasn’t at all. So although it wasn’t a musical, there were quite a few numbers that had to be done.

KP: When you have moments that are character driven, like all of Izzi’s entrances for example, how much of your work is driven by the script versus the actor’s performance?

FR: In the script, it reads, “General Izzi enters.” {Laughs} And then I have to work off that. The director and I will do scouts in advance of the space so that we can see how this entrance is to play out. And then with my assistants, we walk it to see how many 8 counts we need to get from one place to the next place. Then how long does the music need to go and a lot of working with the musical supervisor to create longer edits or shorter edits. It’s a whole process.

And then you work with the dancers, and then the actors step in, and then they have interpreted their way. They may have some ideas that they want to bring to the table. And then you flow with that. And then you give them some ideas that you had. So it’s a really great collaborative process. And when you get to work with people who are the best at what they do, it all makes it lots of fun, and lots of creative things come out of it.

KP: It sounds like such a joyful experience to be part of it. Did you have a favorite scene or a favorite dance that you got to create?

FR: I think the “Get Off” scene was fun. I really enjoyed working with Wesley Snipes, I have to say. He just, I was in awe of his comedic timing, and how much fun he just made each take.

KP: It’s fun when he does comedy.

FR: Mm hmm!

KP: Is there a difference, when you’re choreographing for comedy versus drama?

FR: Yeah, it’s for sure different. It’s just a different thing. You can explore the dance in such a different way. You have the permission to be silly, and that makes it interesting. Sometimes you watch a take and you can just build on that take and build on that take and build on that take as you see the scene grow and build. It just makes it so much fun.

We would like to thank Fatima Robinson for speaking with us.

You can see her brilliant choreography in Coming 2 America, now streaming on Prime Video.

Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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