The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for.
There’s always been tons of untold history that was missing from textbooks in public schools. Some cover the triumphs of past nations, while others contain nothing but malice behaviors and destruction. My sentiments for The Woman King lie somewhere in the middle. On the surface, it would appear this title is everything any action-adventure fan would flock to the theater to see, especially if they’re Black and/or of African descent. However, Hollywood is known for always taking advantage of creative freedom, then changing the narrative to cater to certain audiences.
That’s definitely the case here. The Woman King focuses on the story of the Agojie, an all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey during the 19th century. The problem with the overall arc of this film is it paints these warriors as heroes, as saviors, as a group of people that showcases absolute strength, and should be looked up to. For historical accuracy, this couldn’t be anything further from the truth. In reality, the Agojie tribe was one of the main collaborators that participated and/or were leaders within the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. This film paints the picture that this group was ignorant of their involvement not knowing the real impact of this nightmare. This is extremely problematic and should be addressed. Audiences around the country and even the world continue to debate online through various platforms either with their disdain or excitement for the film. If only it could please everyone which seems like an impossible task.
The film is still very entertaining. If you wanted to see an elite strong force of women that know how to handle weaponry fighting to the death to defend what they own that’s exactly what you’re going to get. For some of it you’ll have to suspend your disbelief due to it being unrealistic to have your arm literally broken, then snapped back in place as if it was a minor inconvenience. However, those are just minor setbacks to the overall film. The best parts are the relationships between the lead characters. Nanisca (Viola Davis) is fantastic in fulfilling her role, and that’s expected. Not only is she fierce, but the film takes time to show her character’s vulnerable side as well. It’s interesting seeing that this film focuses so much on war and brutality. Not to the point where it’s a bloody mess, but it is still a heavy amount of violence. The character Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) was a standout on her own as well. You’ll gain respect for her as soon as she appears on the screen. Going down the list of every other performance would be unnecessary, but just know the entire cast did an exceptional job of putting their best efforts on display.
On a technical note, the cinematography spoke volumes as well. With an all-black dark-skinned cast, the lighting most likely was a challenge but still held up beyond necessary standards. It was wonderful seeing all that chocolate pop on screen. The sound design hit hard when required to, leaving you anxious not knowing which characters would live and die. And when some do perish you’re sad as if you knew them personally, as if you lost a best friend. You really believe in what these women are fighting for even if it’s not a real depiction of actual history.
There’s a lot to be proud of in The Woman King, and I completely understand wanting to escape to the theater to be a part of empowerment that is not often available to some groups. However part of me feels like I’m selling my soul, just for a couple of hours of entertainment. I truly wish this film was more historically accurate and not painting these slave catchers as heroes; but if you can ignore all of that, which might be difficult, you’ll still have a decent time.