Written by Markus Robinson
Disclaimer: While I don’t believe a film critic has any real impact on the box-office, I am of the belief that there are online influencers who are very much able to galvanize their bases in a very real way in order to impact the box-office, by creating controversies surrounding targeted media they deem to be “woke” or basically inclusive. These influencers are not critics at all, but mostly from the world of political commentary. And while I may be in the minority in my thoughts on how much influence these groups actually have, I will BRIEFLY touch on one of the controversies surrounding this film as a rebuttal I feel is very much needed. Is this film historically accurate? No. There are liberties taken by the filmmakers as to the Kingdom of Dahomey’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. And so, the film is not historically accurate. Not that it ever claims to be. In fact, I have seen this film described accurately as an alternate historical retelling or historical fiction. That said, nobody said shit when white patriotic movies like “Braveheart”, “Gladiator” or “The Patriot” bend the historical truth; hiding factual atrocities and whatnot. But when a movie like “The Woman King” does it, then we have a problem? Anyway, moving on.
A film that caught me completely off-guard, “The Woman King” is a superior theater going experience on almost every level.
Taking place in 1823 West Africa, this film tells the story of Nanisca (Viola Davis), the leader of an all-female unit of warriors in the Kingdom of Dahomey. The film follows this group and their king (John Boyega) as they attempt to fight off a powerful group of slave traders.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), instantly establishes the scale of this epic by going big right out of the gate with a theater shaking battle sequence. She quickly works to showcase her love and admiration of these physically dominate female characters throughout the film, through fight and training sequences which are all filmed with the visual clarity and boldness of a big budget musical number. But it’s not just about the action, as there really are only three or four big action sequences. It is the smaller scenes of levity and female-centric bonding centered around trauma, loss and triumph which really carry this two hour plus film. And this is possible due to a cast which includes the aforementioned Davis and Boyega, but also Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die), Sheila Atim (Bruised) and Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad) who all give performances which meet the moment, as this collective display of Black cinema excellence more than holds in the same movie as some of the most adrenaline pumping visuals, I’ve seen all year.
Sure, there are a few melodramatic scenes involving a love interest storyline which take away from the story. And no, the film wasn’t as visually bloody as it could’ve been, as it is PG-13. But the battle scenes are quite gruesome in their own right, while maintaining a spatially coherent, fast paced acrobatic quality that I think many MCU movies could take notes from. And the melodrama here is no different than what one would find in other award-winning historical action-based films like “Braveheart” or “Gladiator”.
Final Thought: “The Woman King” has so much going for it. From the battle sequences, to the character building, to the historical stakes felt throughout because of some fantastic storytelling, there is something for everyone. For me there was also something deeper. “The Woman King” depicts its relationship between elder Black female characters and younger Black female characters as analogous to the fractured connection between Africa and every single person stolen from her during this horrific time in history. A profound theme handled with such care, that I wish more people would actually experience before making their own statements about “The Woman King” as a film.
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