The Woman King ★★★★
Starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger, John Boyega
Considering the quality and quantity of her work, Viola Davis rarely gets the recognition she deserves in Hollywood. It has been refreshing to see her front and genre in the marketing for The Woman King, a movie about the Agojie, an all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800's. But on a more fundamental level, this movie represents a hopeful dawn of new stories on the big screen.
From the opening frame, the film keeps the usual formats of a historical epic; the opening title explainer, the opening heated battle, and the opening introduction to the kick-ass heroes we're going to be spending the next two hours with. But this time, we're not watching blonde hair and blue eyes, we're witnessing Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch (Izogie), Sheila Atim (Nanisca) and a host of other powerful Black women front and centre, and it's captivating.
Every part of the movie is skilfully crafted, with charm and detail waiting around every corner. The plot doesn't move particular fast, preferring to focus on the cultural understanding and world building, rather than constant action sequences. For the majority of the first half, we focus on a new recruit: Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), as she is given away by her father for refusing to take a husband. For someone of such a young age, Mbedu carries the load of this movie effortlessly and is an equal match to Davis; the frequent moments they have together are the highlights throughout.
As we creep in to the final third, the love interest storyline between Nawi and Jordan Bolger's Malik, detracts from what is otherwise a humbling story. Historically accurate? Not quite. It's truthful in blood strokes, but it doesn't take much time on your favourite search engine to realise that we are focusing on more positive sides of Dahomey and its people.
Nevertheless, this is a film about culture, power and identity. Talking about his upcoming movie Emancipation, Will Smith talked about his reluctance to make a story about slavery, preferring to "depict black excellence". He goes on to say that Emancipation "was one that was about love and the power of Black love...we were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible." The same can be said about The Woman King; it too is a story about the invincibility of Black love.
The Woman King available in cinemas now