The Woman King is a satisfying, genre-upending action flick
Oscar winner Viola Davis kicks ass in historical drama
By: Michael Hollett
The Woman King Where: In theatres What: Movie, 135 mins. When: Now Genre: Action Why you should watch: A genre-upending, action-packed historical film that sees Black women kicking ass in a rare depiction of pre-colonized Africa.
The Woman King, starring Oscar winner Viola Davis, is a genre-upending take on a classic, historical action picture with at least one profound difference: those wielding the essential ass-kicking are legions of Black women in pre-colonized Africa.
Minutes into the film, we’re seeing action that’s both familiar and deeply unfamiliar: blood and guts spill as waves of African women go medieval on their enemies, using swords to slash, stab and skewer.
As the female warriors slit and impale their way through their opponents, I’m strangely left to view this bloodbath as some kind of progress with women occupying roles usually monopolized by men, the story more than just exploitation because of its historical context.
The Woman King is based on historical fact, vividly depicting the West African kingdom, Dahomey. General Nanisca (Davis) leads the Agojie, female warriors legendary for their skill and ruthlessness in defending their land from the 17th to 19th centuries. Set in the 1820s, the shots depicting pre-colonial village life are both rare in American films and deeply satisfying because of the unfamiliar world revealed..
The plot tells the story of individual soldiers seeking redemption through serving in the battle force as well as General Nanisca vying to ultimately lead her people. While participating in the transatlantic slave trade, capturing and trading Africans with the Europeans, the women of the community attempt to refocus their economy on palm oil.
The Woman King is significant for re-framing action movies and is one more step in repopulating mainstream film with new stories and perspectives that are long overdue.