Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Inspired by the true story of the Agojie, an all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s, The Woman King is one of those movies whose impact (and timing) is both rewarded and hindered by the one movie it will most definitely be compared to, Black Panther.
I admit to also making comparisons, at least when it came to seeing the trailer for this film. And I don’t think anyone could be faulted for comparing the story here to that of the Dora Milaje, the all-female guard that protect the fantastical country of Wakanda and its warrior king. But after seeing the film I can understand why the reviews haven’t been as stellar as hoped. And I don’t think the story itself is at fault but more so the way this was marketed as a straight-up action movie (set in the past of course) as this may have left some viewers disappointed with what they actually got.
So putting aside the Black Panther vibe the movie’s trailer was pushing, The Woman King is an emotional and dramatic tale of the Dahomey kingdom, specifically that of General Nanisca (played by the incomparable Viola Davis) as she leads her warriors into battle and trains the next generation of recruits, one of which is a young brash but brave woman called Nawi (Thuso Mbedu). Through her training Nawi learns from the legendary women around her like the funny and a bit unhinged Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and the statuesque and wise Amenza (Sheila Atim) as well as the General herself. From then she learns not only what it means to be a woman warrior but also an African in a nation divided that’s being manipulated and exploited by European slavers such as Santo Ferreira (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) who use the internal struggles that exists between the kingdoms like the Oye and the Dahomey as a means of profit. Both nations sell their adversaries into the slave trade but General Nanisca sees the evil of this and as she fights against her past and the demons that plague her dreams she has to find the inner strength to fight real life battles while also ensuring the young warriors who follow in her footsteps can step up to the challenges that lie ahead.
Voila Davis is an actress that makes everything she’s in better, just by having her present (Suicide Squad anyone?). And while all the performances were memorable (I’m a huge fan of Sheila Atim!) it goes without saying she’s the one everyone’s focus is on while watching and she does not disappoint. That said, it’s young Thuso Mbedu as Nawi who made me sit up and pay attention to this tale, which is told through her experiences. Mbedu hits all the right notes as we watch Nawi go from a cocky, naïve, almost bratty teen who you’ll want to slap across the face a few times, to a young woman who is self-assured but also extremely loyal to her “sisters” and her homeland. John Boyega is fittingly regal as the young king out to make a legacy for himself (and most importantly his people) but he doesn’t get that much to do here, which is the case with most of the side characters.
Speaking of not much, narrative wise the movie isn’t as complex as you may expect from the setting and the story. This isn’t Roots and I don’t think it needed to be but I’m sure the lack of any character development beyond the two main characters may not sit well with some viewers.
As for the action sequences, this is where I think most people will be left wanting. There are three of them, with a few smaller moments splattered in between and while there were a few “hell yeah!” moments to be found, for the most part they editing left us with blink-and-you-miss-it scenes or some that were a bit too dark (or maybe the cinema screen I saw it in wasn’t top notch). Either way, The Woman King sold itself as action heavy so the fact its more of a drama might leave a sour taste with some.
Overall though I quite enjoyed it. I’m sure smaller minds will dismiss it as a “chick flick” but for me it offered so much more. Yes we do get strong women, some who’ve been through horrific moments in their lives yet still find the strength to fight for each other and for themselves. But we also have positive male characters like King Ghezo who although young understands the importance of heeding the wisdom of those who have experience in their fields. Or The Migan (Sivuyile Ngesi) the general in charge of the male counterparts of the army who treats General Nanisca as an equal or even Malik (Jordan Bolger) a young bi-racial man whose mother was Dahomey. He starts out as friends with Santo the slave trader from Brazil but through his experiences learns to stand and fight against the horrors inflicted on his African brethren.
In short The Woman King isn’t perfect but it is much better than it’s being made out to be. Don’t go into it expecting Black Panther and I think you’ll find yourself enjoying it as much as I did
Score: 7 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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