Viola Davis Immortalizes Dahomey in The Woman King
The Woman King is more than just an action movie with Black women, it will definitely enlighten society, Black, White or otherwise to yet another part of history that has been omitted. This is what we know for sure according to historians throughout the centuries.
Esplanade des Amazones is a public square located in Benin and home to a 30 metre high statue built in homage to the world’s only all-female army – The Dahomey, a West African empire that existed from 1625 to 1894. How and why they came to be or what their original purpose was, is an unresolved mystery. Some claim they were elephant hunters, while others state they served as royal guards to the almost erased Queen Tassi Hangbe, who ruled the Dahomey Kingdom in the early 18th Century after the sudden death of her twin brother.
She reigned for only three years and was forcibly removed from the throne by her other brother Agaja. Hangbe was all for women during her short but powerful reign, urging them to engage in farming and hunting, activities that were at the time solely for men.
The Woman King brings us into the year 1823. Orphaned at birth and raised by an abusive guardian who seeks only to marry her off for money, young Nawi petitions for entry into the Agojie, led by the single-minded Nanisca . To defend their people against the oppressive and heavily armed Oyo Empire, the Agojie places their candidates through intense training with Nawi rising to the cream of the crop as an outstanding, ferocious soldier. As the Agojie prepare for the fight of their lives against both the Oyo and the Portuguese slave traders with whom they are in league, long-buried secrets come to light and harrowing stories of personal sacrifice arise, which prove to only strengthen the bonds between these unstoppable warrior women.
Having been a fan Gina Prince-Bythewood dating back to Love & Basketball, she has proven repeatedly her investment in bringing stories of strong women to the screen who are in command without fluff and contrived narratives. With The Woman King, she once again delivers a riveting story of heroism, friendship, illustrated within the power of women dramatizing a turning point in world history with spectacular battle scenes and moving character work.
In addition to having a Black woman at the helm, a primarily all female cast led by Academy Award winner Viola Davis, there is also a woman of color on the producing team from Tri-Star Pictures with Nicole Brown. This is epic in so many ways and made my heart burst in hopes that The Woman King accomplishes for Black women in film what Black Panther has done for us as a race in the cinematic landscape.
Viola Davis coupled with Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim and Lashana Lynch as warriors are equally frightening with skill that only their male counterparts rival. To witness Black women not being subservient, or being treated like a footnote in the human being food chain, is an image I wish had been available to me growing up.
John Boyega (King Ghezo) and Jimmy Odukoya (Oba Ade) provide the right amount of strength, ying and yang that makes you adore, loathe and empathize with them all at once, yet still rooting for our sistas’ to succeed.
Casting Director Aisha Coley, alongside Production Designer Akin McKenzie, Cinematographer Polly Morgan, Costume Designer Gersha Phillips and rest of the creative team including Hair Department Head Louisa V. Anthony should all be applauded and awarded for their spectacularly artistic prowess with this film.
The Woman King will ruffle some feathers, while simultaneously having others screaming and jumping for joy. Finally, Black women are leading a major studio feature film for the first time in history, but most definitely not the last. Well done, Viola…let’s do it again.