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  • Debbie Cerda

THE WOMAN KING


The Woman King is a powerful and captivating historical action drama that brings to life a lesser-known chapter of history with remarkable depth and sensitivity. The film follows a fictionalized story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who were trained to protect the West African Kingdom of Dahomey from invaders during the 17th to 19th centuries. It is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees) with a screenplay by Dana Stevens, adapted from a story Stevens co-wrote with Maria Bello.


General Nanisca (Viola Davis), serves as the leader of the all-female group of warriors, the Agojie. The Agojie liberated Dahomean women who were abducted by slavers from the Oyo Empire. The abductions provoked King Ghezo (John Boyega) of Dahomey into preparing for an all-out war against the Oyo. Nanisca must then train a new generation of warriors to join the Agojie to protect the kingdom, including Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), with the support of Izogie (Lashana Lynch), a veteran Agojie. Together the warriors prepare for battle, with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen, against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life.


The performances of the lead and supporting actresses in The Woman King are outstanding, bringing depth and nuance to their characters and drawing the audience into their struggles and triumphs. Viola Davis transforms into her portrayal of General Nanisca, accesses an impressive level of emotional depth and nuance as well as physicality. She presents as an imposing action heroine, performing exceptionally well in the numerous action scenes. Lynch and Mbedu deliver exceptional and standout supporting performances that nearly steal the show at times.


The film's direction, cinematography, and score create a stunning visual and auditory experience that immerses viewers in the African scenery. The editing is the masterful work of Terilyn A. Shropshire, who worked on Prince-Bythewood's The Old Guard (2020).


The Woman King musical score and soundtrack embraces a cultural authenticity not often represented. The film's musical score was composed by Terence Blanchard, who worked with Prince-Bythewood on her first film Love & Basketball (2000). Blanchard utilized the nine-voice Vox Noire ensemble, who worked with him on his opera “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”, with jazz singer Dianne Reeves as his soloist. Three compositions by South African composer Lebo M. of chants and dances were also featured in on-screen performances.


The Woman King deftly explores themes such as courage, family, and leadership, all of which are handled with a rare level of authenticity and emotional resonance. Prince-Bythewood has done an impressive job of showcasing the complexities of the historical era the film portrays, and of highlighting the pivotal role that women played in shaping the destiny of their communities.


The Woman King is an exceptional film that deserves to be seen and appreciated by a wide audience. Its gripping storytelling, superb performances, and meaningful themes make it one of the standout films of the year.


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