Movie: The Woman King
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Producers: Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Maria Bello, Cathy Schulman
Screenplay: Dana Stevens
Run time: 2 hours 24 minutes
Reviewer: Taiwo Adeniyi
Viola Davis with another stellar performance took her protest against discrimination against people of colour in Hollywood to another level. Her fury against the treatment of black people in the movie industry was laid bare in this historical epic movie that also brings to mind ‘Bravehearts’ and ‘Gladiator.’
Viola Davis starred as General Nanisca in this two hours, 24 minutes movie. The general of an all-female warrior – Agojie warriors or the Dahomey Amazons – carried with her scar from her captivity as a young girl. The scar influenced her decisions in life and also turned out to be her Achilles Heel in this movie. The film is about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries. Set in the 1820s, the film chronicles the exploits of the all-female soldiers led by General Nanisca.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, this movie attempts at documenting the historical Dahomey warriors. Considering little literature exists on the exploits of the deadly and fierce platoon of female soldiers in Dahomey is quite commending.
With a blend of Africans and a cast of African descent, ‘The Woman King’ made a mark in Hollywood and beyond that, no one can tell the African stories or histories better than the Africans. Aside from the outstanding storytelling and stellar display by the Amazons, Viola Davis scored a point that will ensure that women are given their rightful place in the movie industry. Having demonstrated her wits in several movies and soap operas, Viola Davis showed that colour and age should not be a barrier in casting a movie and remuneration should not be conditioned by skin colour.
The award-winning star despite her age has broken the ceiling thereby setting the standard high for younger generations, especially blacks. Nigerians can be assured of a good representation with the performances of John Boyega and Jimmy Odukoya (Oba Ade, an Oyo general).
The interchange between the two at the palace of King Ghezo played by John Boyega, a young radical ruler of Dahomey who rode on the prowess of his female warriors to resist the dominance of the Oyo empire, was with an unalloyed Nigerian accent that was flawlessly rendered. John Boyega was outstanding as usual, especially with his body language in the film.
‘The Woman King’ was filmed in South Africa and also boasts of one of South Africa’s stars, in the person of Thuso Mbedu who played Nawi. Nawi was a zealous fighter whom her father willingly gave out to King Ghezo after a series of failed arranged marriages.
The film has however been criticised for its representation of the roles of Africans in the transatlantic slave trade. Viola Davis in a recent interview was aware of this adding that we entered the story where the kingdom was in flux, at a crossroads. They were looking to find some way to keep their civilization and kingdom alive. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were decimated. Most of the story is fictionalized. No one can best capture or relive the dark era of the slave trade in African history. While documenting this barbaric era for the screen, producers and directors take caution to sustain audience attention and interest by mixing several scenes with entertainment. This was pronounced in ‘The Woman King’ with its inadvertent comedy, especially with roles played by Thuso Mbedu. While the transatlantic slave trade was fought in the movie. Producers were docile on some concerning culture displayed in the film. Among these is early and forced marriage. Making young girls get married to elderly male due to the rewards their parents get from their suitors still occur and it was not adequately addressed in this film.
This film cries, Africa. From the appealing costume, energetic choreography, entertaining stunts and unique accents of the cast. This movie is still showing in cinemas and it would make a great watch if you desire to know something about a historical event in Dahomey now Benin Republic as well as the prowess of the Dahomey Amazons.
Cast: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Adrienne Warren, Jayme Lawson, Masali Baduza, Angélique Kidjo, Jimmy Odukoya, Thando Dlomo, Jordan Bolger, Zozibini Tunzi, Siv Ngesi, Julian Tennon.
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