Fans of Black Panther have you ever wondered whom those bald headed Dora Milaje female warriors that defended Wakanda inspired by? All is revealed in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, The Dahomey Amazons better known as Agojie.
Africa is a nation not known for it’s action packed stories in Hollywood especially ones with true historical relevance. We could say MCU’s Black Panther has a lot to thank us for that. This true story is not one blessed with amazing technology, it does have superheroes of sorts. Viola Davis is one of heroes ,the warrior general protect her king and lands from existential threats.
In The Woman King we find ourselves in 1800’s, the Kingdom of Dahomey (now modern day Benin), Western Africa. General Nanisca (Davis) a battle scarred leads the all female warrior class feared more than their male counterparts. We learn early on the Dahomey are in confrontation with the neighbouring Oyo Empire. We get a taster of the tribal troubles in the opening scene when the Agojie go on a rescue mission. Rescuing Dahomey women kidnapped by the Oyo showcasing their ruthlessness, power and they fear no one.
The warriors return home, Nanisca seeks counsel with King Ghezo (John Boyega), warning him all out war is upon him. New warriors are trialled with young woman Nawi (played by Thuso Mbedu) offered to the royal court by her father after she rejected an arranged marriage. Quickly she learns the hard way becoming part of the warrior class is no easy feat. Nanisca herself is forced to confront demons from her past.
Like many of the other reviews for The Woman King, this is an old fashioned entertaining film. Follows very familiar paths the likes of Braveheart even Gladiator have tread. Until now how many of us actually knew about the story behind the Agojie warriors? Very few. Which propels the film into a unique position especially a story of female warriors. Africa is an undiscovered continent for Hollywood with a wealth of history and mythology waiting to be adapted for the big screen.
How history meticulous is this film? Dana Stevens and Maria Bello’s script seems to loose on the accuracy when it comes to the likes of the real characters and fictional ones. The biggest controversy is the film only seems to show the Oyo Empire had it’s hand in the Slave trade. The Dahomey equally played it’s own part in the trade. Ghezo does mention he would consider moving to Palm Oil, suggesting slavery was his current main trade.
When you watch the trailer, you get the impression we are getting an action packed war film. That is partly correct as the escalation between the two factions intensifies as the film progresses. The battles are fierce, set pieces ferocious even a little brutal. Only let down with no blood splattered as the soldiers battle.
Davis, Mbedu and Lashana Lynch are fantastic and carry the film really well. The veteran, the rookie and the reliable warrior. Visually, The Woman King is gorgeous, with it’s opulent vibrant colours, and it’s lush costumes. You do get a sense of community, friendship, sisterhood, the celebrations. The script and it’s subplots leave a lot to be desired with with stories that only scratching the surface. You could also argue the film also lacked a true villain.
What the film title stands for you will learn by the end what it means. That’s if the pace doesn’t defeat you by the time you get to the end. Behind the flaws The Woman King is entertaining popcorn fodder with fine acting. Only let down down by it’s formulaic predictability.
Action, Drama | USA, 2022 | 15 | Cinema | 4th October 2022 (UK) | Entertainment One UK | Dir.Gina Prince-Bythewood | Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, John Boyega, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger, Jayme Lawson