Director Gina Prince-Bythewood makes a comeback to the screen with her newest film The Woman King, starring Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Thuso Mbedu, and John Boyega. Inspired by historical events, Prince-Bythewood’s most ambitious project is about a group of women warriors defending the Western African kingdom of Dahomey during the 19th century. The film premiered across the United States on Sept. 16.
Prince-Bythewood is known for her other films featuring black women protagonists, such as The Secret Life of Bees and Beyond the Lights. Her previous film, The Old Guard, premiered on Netflix in July 2020 garnered much success.
The movie starts off following the kingdom of Dahomey, what is now known as present day Benin, with an army of women warriors known as the Agojie. The Agojie are led by tough General Nanisca, played by Viola Davis, fighting against the soldiers of the Oyo Empire that have been attacking Dahomey villages to capture and sell slaves. King Ghezo, played by John Boyega, is provoked by the attacks and wants to fight against the Oyo. With rising tensions, Nanisca trains new recruitments for her female army. Among the new recruits is impulsive Nawi, played by Thuso Mdedu, who was sent to the Agojie as she did not want to marry someone who would beat her to obey. Veteran Agojie Izogie, played by Lashana Lynch, takes Nawi under her wing as she begins her training. As Nawi clashes with Nansica questioning her rules, she becomes a fearful warrior defending her kingdom and her kin.
Davis’ performance as battle-scarred Nanisca may be her best yet. It was refreshing to see her play a complex character as a general. Not only because of her remarkable fight scenes and tough persona but also because of her intricate relationship with Nawi. Along with Davis’ acting being well received, Mbedu’s breakout role as Nawi was exciting, especially her friendship with Izogie.
The cinematography was amazing and the fight scenes were fluid and attention grabbing. Davis’ fight scenes were compelling and evoked such raw emotions, she captured everyone’s attention on the screen.
This film brought back Black actors together for the big screen once again. Prince-Bythewood directed a beautiful film that not only highlighted on black women and African culture, but about sisterhood, family, and self-discovery.