Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Written by: Dana Stevens

Starring: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, John Boyega

Rating: [4.5/5]

Untold stories of historic warriors serve as an opportunity to learn about history never told before and almost feel educational to a point even with the fictionalization involved. It allows for larger discussions about the impact they have had and opens our eyes to a whole world most individuals remain wholly ignorant about. The Woman King serves in providing this service with an elite West African group of women warriors and it results in a spectacular action film filled with strong performances. 

In the kingdom of Dahomey, a group of women called the Agojie serve as the trusted warriors of King Ghezo (John Boyega) led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis). With the threat of European enslavers making their way deeper into the African continent, the people of Dahomey must look out for neighboring kingdoms and their approach to not be the next ones to be sent away in chains. 

Learning about the Agojie through this film and not through what gets taught in any history class does cause some frustration showing the impact they had on the African continent and their connection to the slave trade in both good and bad ways. An important aspect of African history that deserves its time in the spotlight and this feature certainly delivers in providing the needed education seeing as it allows for nuanced observation of what they have done while also being a stunning action film in the way it gets captured. 

This film transports us to West Africa in the 1820s where many of the kingdoms found themselves at an impasse. They had to worry about being invaded by neighboring groups but now also the threat of Europeans looking to colonize and enslave allows for an observation of what it means to these kingdoms to be free and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve. This brings in the Agojie who go out on specialized missions in order to free their people who have been taken and the way they navigate comes with a tremendous amount of swagger. Their first scene has them appearing out of the grass and you know from the onset these are not women to be messed with. You have General Nanisca portrayed by the very physically daunting Viola Davis and then Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim) who help lead a group of women in battle. 

Each of these sequences displays the brutality involved with battle but also shows off the exceptional skills of these warriors. Some will attack with brute force while others will use their athleticism in getting their kill. It makes for a well-rounded group of women. When not in action with them, we get to learn about how they operate and how any woman has the opportunity to join the ranks if they can handle the training and what needs to be forsaken if they choose this life, which includes taking no husband and having no children. It comes with a lifetime commitment but with a sense of respect that women in the world today frankly still do not receive. The scene where they walk through the village where no one should look them in the eye because they are that important really sums it all up. Through the eyes of Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) we see what it takes to join the ranks. Once you get in, it does not matter where you came from or your past, you are part of the Agojie, which certainly has an element of beauty and meritocracy within it. 

The fine line needing to be walked in this film comes from the history of the Agojie in regard to slavery, which gets handled in a very honest and respectful manner. Yes, in the real world, they did participate in enslaving Africans who would find themselves through the Transatlantic slave trade. The film reckons with it through the discussions of how the kingdom will operate considering selling off slaves makes up a material amount of their revenue. It demonstrates why these kingdoms opted to sell off their fellow countrymen, especially if it assured their own survival as well. It takes on this issue head-on, which certainly can be appreciated, especially when in the process of trying to stop detractors who will find a way to nitpick the film in its historical accuracy. 

Being a historical epic, it feels quite historic that this film features dark-skinned Black women in all prominent roles and highlights them. Black women, in general,  have had a difficult time trying to receive the limelight but as the results show, it becomes an even steeper climb for dark-skinned Black women as they stray even further away from the ideal European beauty standards that remain the preferred look for centuries now. Allowing these women to tell this story and not lie in the background and be the prominent figures adds something extra special to what this manages to accomplish as a whole. 

Epic in every sense of the word in all elements of its filmmaking, The Woman King proves so much. It continues to prove Gina Prince-Bythewood is an incredible director who started with smaller films and continues to wow with what she can accomplish with bigger budgets and a larger scope. It allows dark-skinned Black women to take lead in this story and highlights them in a way they deserve while also displaying what it means to blend action, history, and vibrant filmmaking all at once. An absolute stunner of a film that reaches the heights of other historical epics and most definitely deserves the same adoration. 

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