WOMAN KING
(***)-VITO CARLI

"...an inspiring tale of female autonomy and sisterhood"

Davis Gives Oscar Level Performance as Epic Warrior

(111722) The Woman King is an absorbing epic adventure about the Agojie, a real all woman army comprised of Dahomean women in a West African kingdom during the 19th century. Despite the fact it is inspired by some real history and a true group of peoplr, it seems to also incorporates some of the fictional elements of Wonder Woman and Black Panther. But how much you appreciate the film may depend on how comfortable you are with the liberties the film takes with its presentation of history. Although the main parts of the story come from real history, parts were fictionalized and some of the characters were made up.

One of the main draws here is the uniformly strong ensemble acting by a mostly female African American cast. Viola Davis’s performance is spell binding and certainly among the best of the year. So far, she he has already received four Oscar nominations (more than any other black actress), and It seems a safe bet that she will receive another for this film. There is also an outside chance that Thuso Mbedu will earn a best supporting actress nom for her performance as the proud, long suffering and fiery tempered younger soldier.

The female tribe in the film was created to serve King (John Boyega) and his huge fortune. The tribe is led by the regal and authoritative, General Nansica (Viola Davis). The other main characters include Amenza (Sheila Atim), and Izogie (Lashana Lynch). The older warriors help teach a spirited but unexperienced novice, Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) who is one of the film’s most easy to identify with characters.

The film begins when, Nawi, a rebellious teen girl who does not follow traditional gender norms exasperates her dad by refusing all her offers of marriage. Consequently, she is offered up as a present to the king. She catches the eye of an older warrior, Izogie, who is impressed by Nawi’s spirit, and she is offered an alternative lifestyle choice. She is offered a spot to train for an all-female army, but first she must swear to serve her king and give up the prospect of motherhood. If she makes it through training, she will have a much freer life than most of the young women her age.

The Oyo empire are the main villains in the film. Their defeated enemies are offered up as slaves for sale to Europeans or they are traded for weapons. One of the highlights of the film is when the superior trained Nawi face off against the Oyo fighters even though they are outnumbered

One of the flaws in is that in order to make the film’s female warriors’ character more likable and acceptable to modern sensibilities the film fictionalizes the main characters and gives audiences the idea that they were in some ways the opposite of what they really were. The African kingdom trained and created the female army not for defense, but to defeat and enslave their neighbors. Also, film depicts Nanisca confronting her king, and getting him to stop the Dahorney’s people’s involvement in the slave trade. In the real history there was no Nansica, and the Dahorney people continued supplying slaves to the Portuguese for years after the events of the film. Interested parties can read about the film’s relation to real history at the Smithsonian Institution article: “The Real Warriors Behind the Woman King.” They were not exactly the feminist slave liberators the film presents them as. Supplementary, according to Blackhistorymonth.org  in 1851-52, the British were the ones that forced Dahomey to end slavery by imposing a naval blockade. A treaty was soon signed ending the export of slaves from Dahomey.

The exquisite soundtrack is by jazz master and former Jazz Messenger member, Terrance Blanchard who also scored the films: Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Summer of Sam, Black Kkklansman and Da 5 Bloods as well as Harriet and One Night in Miami. He has won five American awards from fourteen nominations. His music is especially effective during the exciting battle sequences.

Despite my reservations, The Women King is an effective action film, and it tells an inspiring tale of female autonomy and sisterhood. But because of its scale it will probably be far less effective on TV, and it practically begs to be seen on a big screen. I just hope that when it is used as an educational tool in schoolteachers will also discuss the real history that inspired it.
 

Directed by:    Gina Prince-Blythewood
Written by:    Screenplay by Dana Stevens, from a story by
 Maria Bello & Dana Stevens
Starring:    Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lymch
Released:    09/09/22 (USA)
Length:    135 minutes
Rating:    PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some
 disturbing material, thematic content, brief
 language and partial nudity
Available On:    At press time it was still playing in local theatres

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

THE WOMAN KING © 2022 TriStar Pictures

Review © 2022 Alternate Reality, Inc.

 

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