‘The Woman King’ Wants To Be ‘Black Panther’ Meets ‘Braveheart’ But It’s More Akin To ‘An Officer And A Gentleman’

I’m going to be blunt. Just because a movie is about a subject matter, it doesn’t automatically mean it should be great. Movies like Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, 12 Years a Slave and the recent The Women King all have flaws, but they take on a subject matter that is hardly ever addressed the way it should be.

The Women King is based on a true story which is always something to take with a grain of salt. Set in 1823 in the West African kingdom of Dahomey, it focuses on the Agojie, an all-woman army of soldiers led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis). Now, if you’re watching this and think, wait a minute, why does this remind me of Black Panther, you wouldn’t be wrong. The comic was actually inspired by the Agojie of Dahomey. Maria Bello, who co-wrote and co-produced the movie, spent years trying to get it made before Black Panther was a huge success.

The Dahomey kingdom are at brewing tension with the Oyo Empire, who consider the women soldiers less than human. And there’s also what happens when they capture people, the Oyo use them in the slave trade with Portugese traders, Santo Ferreria (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and a half-Dahomean named Malik (Jordan Bolger). Even though it portrays the Dahomey kingdom as being opposed to slave trading, historians say they did engage in it, but it wasn’t the primary source of their economy. Regardless, it doesn’t matter if they sold one enslaved person or one million, it was still wrong.

And that’s the problem I had with this, it tries too hard to paint the Dahomey as good people. We all have our flaws, but we see so little of the Oyo that they just come off as misogynistic hulking men. And I hate to say this, but the movie pretty perpetuates the same negative stereotypes about black men as nothing more than angry, violent people. What’s worse than that is Davis’ performance can’t break out of the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype that it’s trying so hard to dismantle.

I like Davis. I don’t like her in this role. Her character is too unlikeable to root for. And while she is a good warrior, I never really saw her as a good leader. There is some backstory where she was raped as a young woman and impregnated. But I really could’ve done without the implication that the young Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) is her long-lost daughter. Nawi is one of several young women who are trained by Nanisca and others for battle. This turns Women King into another generic military training movie.

Nawi is young, but Nanisca thinks she’s cocky and arrogant. When she refuses to be married to an older man who strikes her when she speaks, her father leaves her with the Agojie to be trained. And we got through the same motions that were in Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentlemen, Tigerland, etc. Nawi and Nanisca initially butt heads but there is an obstacle course or some training exercise that Nawi wins, secretly earning Nanisca’s admiration.

Even though the movie is over two hours, it never really feels like much is accomplished. John Boyega plays the real-life King Ghezo of Dahomey, but his character never seems to do much but pop up every now and again to say something in a stern authorititave tone and then disappear for another 10 minutes or so. There’s been some criticism of the accents used by the cast members that seem to always exist in movies where actors play African characters. It’s the Will Smith from Concussion “Tell the truth” accent. What’s worse is the real Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-American, sounds nothing like that.

There is a great story here that isn’t told and it should’ve been told better. I have a feeling another filmmaking team will do this as a limited series or movie. I had a brief discussion about this movie with a friend who brought up Braveheart, which wasn’t historically accurate. And that’s the problem with this movie, it wants to be the Braveheart of Dahomey.

Also, another factor which hurts this movie is the PG-13 rating. As a movie that depicts images of decapitated heads and sexual assault, I felt this movie should’ve been made more R rated. But it probably was cut down to a PG-13 rating to make it more profitable. Produced on a budget of $50 million, it made over $94 million. While that’s not small potatoes, I also felt the predominant woman cast and crew may have kept some people away as well.

But it’s a start. With the Black Panther movies and this, the gauntlet has been thrown for filmmakers and actors to make more movies that aren’t covered in the history books.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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