The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been one filled with superhuman beings who perform incredible acts of bravery to protect their homes and the people they love. It’s these fantastical settings and acts of self-sacrifice that keep many glued to their seats for the entire film. What if I were to tell you that the inspiration behind academy award winning mega blockbuster Black Panther actually had a bit of truth behind that fantastical film?
The Woman King features the Agojie, an all-female army who are portrayed as the king’s royal guard and most elite soldiers. From the historical West African kingdom of Dahomey, they are the real-life inspiration for the Black Panther’s Dora Miaje. Something that I was not even remotely aware of until I sat down and watched the film for myself. Taking place in the 1800’s and set against the backdrop of the heinous slave trade out of Africa, the kingdom of Dahomey has found itself in a bit of a crossroads. Looking to free itself of the slave trade business that it has reluctantly been involved in but has allowed the kingdom to flourish at the same time. Presenting the king and his people with the choice to continue in something that has been going on for generations and brough countless riches to the kingdom, or seek to save the soul of Africa itself, and pivot to a less lucrative business of selling palm oil.
Viola Davis (and her incredible abs that are now headlining the internet) stars as Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie. A woman bound to the service of her king, and to leading the Agojie who are not allowed to date, marry or have children of their own. Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), who’s headstrong personality has defied her fathers many wishes for an arranged marriage, is abandoned at the main gates by her family and has no place else to turn. Fate has brought these strong and powerful women on a course that neither will see coming until the end of the film
John Boyega stars as King Ghezo of the Dahomey kingdom. While the film is far more Black Panther, than it is Game of Thrones, the audience still gets a glimpse of the various power plays and politics that make up the Dahomey kingdom. John Boyega does an outstanding job as King Ghezo, much more intense and stoic a portrayal then the lovable Fynn from the Star Wars sequel movies. It’s hard to know for sure if Chadwick Boseman was still with us if he would have fit naturally into this role as well, of course maybe that would have only drawn more comparisons to Black Panther and detracted from the overall story that the film is trying to tell.
While both Davis and Boyega’s performances will certainly be discussed for this year’s Academy Awards, Thuso Mbedu truly shines the brightest of all it’s stars. She brings a raw energy to the screen, showing herself as not only a tough Agojie warrior, but as a young girl who still longs to belong, fall in love and be accepted in the turbulent world she was brought into.
The Woman King has managed to pull out a PG-13 rating, regardless of it’s violent back drop and strong morally and ethically complicated topics. This was certainly done to ensure that the film could be viewed by a far wider audience. While the rating does mean that much of the violence is heard (rather than seen), and portrayed in a far more artistic fashion, it doesn’t lessen the impact that the film will leave on the viewer far beyond the last credit rolls.
The Woman King is my front runner for movie of the year, with its epic battles, engaging story, and its truly stellar performances. While at its core there is an action movie, it’s really what we learn about the past that continues to stick with me. Like many films that feature their setting so predominantly on screen this is definitely a film that will be most impactful when seen on the big screen. Sony did an absolute disservice to this film with is extremely limited marketing (I hadn’t even seen a preview for it before viewing the film) and even with its release date quickly approaching, September 16th, I still have seen next to nothing about it. You might be forgiven into thinking this is some small indie film trying to find it’s way on the screen, it certainly is not.
5 out of 5 stars