“I offer you a choice. We fight…or we die.”
"The Woman King" tells the story of the Adojie, an all-female group of warriors from an African Kingdom called Dahomey from the 1800s. War is coming for Dahomey, so General Nanisca (Viola Davis) leads the fearsome group and must train more warriors for the battles ahead to protect the land.
A young girl named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), is one of the newest trainees of the Adojie. She is one of the main characters that we follow in the film, alongside experienced warriors Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim).
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and story and script by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens, this historic epic is one that you do not want to miss seeing on the big screen.
Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis is a particular standout in the film. This role is unlike anything we’ve seen from Davis, and she also played a major role behind the scenes as a producer. Dark-skinned black women led the production, which we do not see very often in the film industry. This story and script breaks away from the traditional narrative where a white man comes to save them. It’s the Adojie women who break the stereotype that being strong and loud is “too masculine” and believe me, they are far from damsels in distress.
You can see the hard work that the cast has put in, especially when it comes to the physicality of the fights. Each fight was intense and had me anxiously awaiting to see who would come out victorious and were simply incredible. One of my favorite fight scenes was at the very beginning. The Adojie slowly rise from the grass, scream their battle cry, and charge at the enemy.
This is a standout moment for me because this is the first impression we get of the warriors. It helps us understand who they are and why they should be feared. They storm the campsite with no fear and with masterful skills in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat.
There were so many people behind the scenes who assisted. From combat trainers, choreographers to stunt performers; furthermore, hearing from the cast themselves makes it clear that "The Woman King" was a battle in itself to train for.
In a promotional video by Sony Pictures for the film, the women talk about their rigorous training routine. Five hours of exhausting workouts everyday with weapons, sprinting and weights were needed to get them in shape for the film.
I also loved how each character had range and weren’t just emotionless warriors. There were times of vulnerability, sisterhood and companionship, but also times of tough love, fearsomeness and hatred. General Nanisca is a character who must keep a brave face on, but once she’s alone, her true character comes out. She’s exhausted, stressed and trying to cope with a traumatizing past that is coming back to haunt her. Without giving spoilers, she has an upsetting backstory that you will not expect. This is covered around the middle of the film.
Amongst the warriors, I really admired that none of these qualities made the women appear weaker. We are reminded that behind every strong warrior, there are inner demons they face every day.
It’s important to note that the film is “inspired” by true events, not “based,” therefore not every detail may be historically accurate. Given that the Adojie were real people, it makes me wonder why I had never heard about them before. In middle and high school, slavery was a unit we covered almost every year, but I don’t remember learning about Africans who fought back. This film made me realize once again how heartbreaking that time in our history was. The fact that Africans were selling other Africans to the European slave trade was something I never even knew occurred.
I found myself leaving the theater feeling empowered and inspired. I keep rewatching trailers and interviews and researching the history behind it because it is so fascinating to me. It brings me joy because movies like this have a societal impact. Young women of color can proudly look at the screen and see themselves in the Adojie.
"The Woman King" was released on September 16, 2022, and is showing only in theaters.
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