The Woman King: war like never before

Audra Kooi – Staff Writer

Telling a story of beauty and strength, The Woman King brings a new perspective to the world of historical action films.

The film follows the induction of a new group of young girls to the Agojie—a fierce all-female unit of warriors in the African Dahomey tribe led by Nanisca, played by Viola Davis.

The trainees are taught to be brave and relentless as they fight for justice. When Oyo leaders arrive to collect tribute from the Dahomey, they find it smaller than in previous years and require captives to make up the difference. These captives will be auctioned off to European slavers.

It is the Dahomey role in the slave trade that frustrates critics, especially because the film is based on real events. Historically, the Dahomey were far more violent and more involved in slave trading than the Sony film depicts: they brutally murdered their enemies in raids and performed mass executions regularly.

As for the slave trade, the Dahomey did search for other avenues of business for a short period, but returned quickly to selling captives to European slavers. The film glorifies the Dahomey searching for other avenues of business, but the truth is harsher.

However, this does not diminish the importance of The Woman King.

While most historical dramas covering wartimes are filled with white men, this cast is packed with women of color, which immediately creates a new perspective. Every Agojie woman is a symbol of impossible strength, and their collective story is meant to empower young girls.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has spoken about both the importance of the film and how hard it was to make it a reality. The idea was first proposed seven years ago, but it took years to convince financiers and executives that the film would be worth it.

The barriers that hindered The Woman King are proof of just how important the film is. This is the first historic war movie I can think of in which the role models are black females. Little girls of color need people to look up to. They need to see the strength of Nanisca and the bravery of Nawi in themselves, and The Woman King succeeds in empowering its audience.

Beyond the storyline, I loved the music composed by Terence Blanchard. It embodied the beauty of African culture. The stark color changes make a distinction between the vibrant Dahomey tribe and the dull life outside its borders, and I could feel the intention behind each choice.

A unique historical drama, The Woman King is empowering and emotional. I was hopeful before watching the film and was not disappointed. As for historical accuracy, we give grace to many other war films, so why should this be any different? The film provides a new perspective, and it’s one you need to see.

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