Review: The Woman King
When I first heard about the film I was quite excited to see it, very rarely, if ever these days are we presented with a film led by a Black female cast. As a West African, I also found the story intriguing because it’s a part of our history I’m familiar with but have never heard about from this aspect.
The film has received a mixed reception due to its historical accuracy (or lack thereof), but I figured I’d report on the film as a casual movie-goer who came for a couple of hours of escapism instead of a history lesson. I do understand why there was a slight uproar as I believe that when people are telling stories of the motherland it’s important to highlight facts especially since so much of our history is discarded. However, in the film’s marketing materials it usually clearly says “inspired by” or “based on” not “about” which I hope encourages viewers to do their own further research instead of taking the film as 100% factual.
The film follows the story of the Agojie, the all-female warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin) in the 1800s. Viola Davis plays their general, Nanisca, in an inspiring performance; she is supported by Sheila Atim who plays Nanisca’s long-time friend and fellow Agojie warrior Amenza. For me, this duo was instrumental in highlighting the importance of sisterhood, not just as an Agojie warrior but also just as a black woman. South-African rising star Thuso Mbedu led strikingly alongside Viola Davis in her breakthrough Hollywood role. She portrayed her character fiercely but also brought tenderness and charm to Nawi.
It did take some time to hear a more identifiably Nigerian accent (I know Benin and Nigeria are not the same, but they’re neighbours sha) and this was from none other than King Ghezo - played by John Boyega. He gave a fantastic performance in the film and certainly resembled a real West African elder with great comedic timing. Another stand-out performance from me came from Lashana Lynch. Lashana, who played Agojie warrior Izogie, delivered a great performance and her character took the audience through every emotion, we certainly laughed and cried with and for her.
The film itself was a great watch and enjoyable for film fans. I think they managed to capture conflicts of the time very well by incorporating spears and knives, but also guns and hand-to-hand combat. One thing about me, I love a good fight scene and really enjoyed the choreography from the port scene onwards. I do feel as if the writers could’ve expanded on some aspects of the story but we did get a good insight into all of the characters in the movie, for the time it ran. It maybe could’ve done without the white-saviour-ism, but I’m glad that was kept to a limit. We’re here to see the Women King[s] after all!
Is it one to be cited as a historical source in academic work? Maybe not. But it had the action, story, moving moments, and fantastic performance from the ensemble - once we got past those accents!