Why The Woman King has captivated Worldwide audiences.
Women with machetes get people talking. What kind of women signed up for this? How did they become so fearless? Why devote themselves to the King they never actually marry? With so many questions about the tale that unearths its foundation in history, The Woman King is more of a triumph than it lets on. Controversy, yes, it sparks it. Yet a good story can often do that. Whether the main characters were real or created, however, is not the point here. The facts are worth discussing, but so are the character's stories. When we write our own stories, we do not merely retell the history of the place we lived, but we tell the world within that history, created uniquely by our perspective. The same is true for a fictional character.
In West Africa, the Agojies* were a real tribe of 'armed women' who defended their King and the Kingdom of Dahomey (now present-day Benin) in context to how the world was around them. There also was a real King Gezo, who reigned from 1818-1858. The Nanisca character played by Viola Davis is loosely based on a real name from the region and the type of personality likely to have led the all-female army, but it is her personal story that sells the film–one of resilience, courage, dedication and commitment to her duty (think, if you will, the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth, another servant leader whose mind was on lifelong duty above all else). Her backstory unveils a dark trauma that she seemingly has yet to overcome–whether it be a stumbling block or fuel, the choice is hers.
Likewise, newcomer Thuso Mbedu, who plays new recruit Nawi, takes on another name from the era and the military job description, but her story is one of warrior-in-the-making. We see the film through her eyes and take on her stubborn, feisty personality as a better fit to be in training rather than for an arranged marriage. Her fascination for weapons in favour of homemaking duties sets us up for how well she is likely to do behind the palace walls and on the battlefield, as we watch her story develop; she's suddenly not a reject but an asset.
What scenes resonated with you as being an element of a great story? What other characters did you love and why? Drop a line in the chat or get in touch with your favourite part, as well as what your story is. Fiction or non-fiction, the world loves a story, and while we learn through this magical lens, you determine how it unfolds and the basis for telling it.
For a more in-depth look at some of the controversies that have arisen, read:
See also Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey, by Stanley B. Alpern (1998).
Click here to watch The Woman King trailer.
*Also referred to as the Agoodjies.