The Woman King (2022)

The Woman King
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Writer: Dana Stevens, Maria Bello
Cast: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Jordan Bolger, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Jimmy Odukoya, Masali Baduza, Jayme Lawson, Adrienne Warren, Chioma Antoinette Umeala
Seen on: 20.10.2022

Content Note: slavery

Plot:
Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) would like nothing more to join the female Agojie warriors led by Nansica (Viola Davis). After refusing yet another husband, her family offers her to the King (John Boyega) as a gift to do with as he pleases. Their kingdom, the Kingdom of Dahomey, is at war and new warriors are always needed. So Nawi’s wish actually comes true and her grueling training schedule begins.

I was really excited about The Woman King and its obvious focus on Black female strength. And while we do get a lot of this, the film didn’t quite come together for me. That being said, it is definitely worth it.

The film poster showing Nansica (Viola Davis) with a machete over her shoulder.

The film starts off well enough with a gory attack by the Agojie that showcases their prowess and efficacy, even if it doesn’t work without any losses. Nawi’s introduction to the Agojie that also takes the audience by the hand works pretty well as the film works with well-established structures of training and building companionship in a group and gives us a feel for the cetnral warriors.

But then the film takes some narrative turns that just didn’t sit well with me. There was on the one hand, Nawi’s love story that felt incredibly clunky and entirely shoehorned in in a film that I wanted to focus on the women. And on the other hand there was a plot reveal about Nansica and Nawi that had me rolling my eyes so hard, it completely brought me out of the film. What is worse, it was entirely unnecessary. The film would have worked just as well without it. That the film had a couple of pacing issues and was a little long around the middle (I actually nodded off a little) didn’t help things either.

Nansica (Viola Davis) leading her warriors.

Despite those criticism that stopped me from completely loving the film, the good certainly outweighed the bad. Davis is a force of nature in the role, with Lynch and Atim giving us less abrasive Agojie warriors who soften Nansica a little as well – while never taking any of their strength.

The costumes are works of art, and it was absolutely fantastic to get this glimpse at African history that is so unlike the narratives we usually get (in Western media at least). There is an emotional impact, a feeling of a hole getting filled when watching this film, this story that is really something to behold (and I imagine is even more pronounced for Black people). So despite my issues, it is still a film I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Nansica (Viola Davis) and Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) leading the warriors back home.

Summarizing: watch it.

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