“The Woman Kin” breaks the mold many may see Viola Davis trapped in as she takes on the role of an action hero during a daunting time in Africa’s history.


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“The Woman Kin” breaks the mold many may see Viola Davis trapped in as she takes on the role of an action hero during a daunting time in Africa’s history.

Director(s) Gina Prince-Bythewood
Screenplay By Maria Bello, Dana Stevens
Date Released (In Theaters) 9/15/2022
Genre(s) Action, Drama, Historical, War
Duration 2 Hours 15 Minutes
Content Rating Rated PG-13
Noted Cast
Ghezo John Boyega
Nanisca Viola Davis
Amenza Sheila Atim
Shante Jayme Lawson
Nawi Thuso Mbedu
Izogie Lashana Lynch
Oba Ade Jimmy Odukoya

This content contains pertinent spoilers.

Film Summary

In  the 1800s (1823 specifically) Dahomey, the slave trade was in full force, and many kingdoms, including Dahomey, rich. However, with the new king, Ghezo, there is a new regime and the need to question whether going forward if those captured should be sold to the Europeans, specifically the Portuguese. Ghezo’s general, Nanisca, is against it, as is her best friend and right-hand Amenza. However, Ghenzo’s wife Shante, who enjoys the riches slavery has allowed, is against the idea of ending the trade of captors.

But, while Nanisca and Shante clash politically, especially in the quest for Ghenzo’s ear, Nanisca also has to focus on her elite soldiers, which she needs more after a recent village raid to free slaves and kill enemies. This leads to a girl from the village, Nawi, being dropped off by her dad for not being easy to sell and meeting Izogie.

Under Izogie’s wing and with butting heads with Nanisca, Nawi finds herself becoming a leader in the making. But with the threat of men like Oba Ade, of the Oyo, who wish to dominate the Dahomey, alongside the forbidden half Dahomey/ half Portuguese man named Malik, a friend to a slaver, Nawi has multiple distractions that lead to watchful eyes.

Things To Note

Why Is “The Woman King” Rated PG-13

  • Dialog: Racist language, but no use of the N-word. Also, so much sexism from the Oyo and slavers
  • Violence: Minor showing of blood, fake-looking dismembered heads, gun violence, hand-to-hand combat (including use of swords and knives)
  • Sexual Content: Implied nudity from seeing a nude back and seeing scenes that aren’t explicit but are clearly rape
  • Miscellaneous: Drinking

Character Descriptions

Izogie (Lashana Lynch), Nanisca (Viola Davis), and Amenza (Sheila Atim) speaking to the agojie
“Izogie (Lashana Lynch), Nanisca (Viola Davis), and Amenza (Sheila Atim) speaking to the agojie,” The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2022, (TriStar Pictures)

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.

Ghezo

King Ghezo was recently crowned after the end of his brother’s reign, which Nanisca helped him obtain.

Nanisca

For decades Nanisca has been part of the Agojie warriors for, like most women in the area, it is the only means of having autonomy and safety. Unfortunately, in exchange, it means no romance or children but, the sisterhood built more than makes up for that. Especially since family ties for many are better when chosen than by blood.

Amenza

Nanisca’s best friend, right hand, and a member of the King’s council, Amenza was a woman captured who integrated into the nation and became one of its fiercest warriors.

Shante

Shante is King Ghezo’s most vocal wives for she has far more ambition than the others. This leads to her butting heads with Nanisca because of how they think the kingdom should move forward.

Nawi

Rebellious, stubborn, but highly capable, Nawi is both the best and worst kind of warrior. Because of her upbringing, she doesn’t have outside world attachments. Yet, the desire for all the Agojie are drives her. They are independent, respected, even feared, and while the hard work can become a bit much, the challenge leads to the kind of sisterhood she has longed for.

Izogie

Going by presence, Izogie is perhaps only third to Nanisca and Amenza, and her main role deals with training the future soldiers of the Agojie – of which she takes a special interest in Nawi, who she meets when Nawi’s father offers her up to the king.

Oba Ade

Oba Ade is the most prominent member of the Oyo Nation we meet in “The Woman King” and is the primary antagonist whose past with Nanisca makes him a target of revenge.

Review

Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing)

Highlights

How It Highlights Its Supporting Cast While Making It Clear Davis Is The Lead

Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) being guided by Izogie into the King's palace to begin training
“Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) being guided by Izogie into the King’s palace to begin training,” The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2022, (TriStar Pictures)

There is no question who is the biggest name and star of “The Woman King,” but while Viola Davis is the star, this doesn’t mean Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim, Lashana Lynch, or even Jayme Lawson are just fodder for her in their scenes together. I would even say the ladies hold their own when Davis, as Nanisca, isn’t around.

Part of this is due to the sisterhood of the Agojie, who pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, since their focus is training, dancing, remaining clean and presentable, and their close friendships. A prime example of this is Nawi and Izogie. Izogie’s relationship with Nawi helps you understand how Dana Stevens, Maria Bello, and the legendary Gina Prince-Bythewood wanted to show you that no soldier alone commands an entire army or film. Izogie is just as much given many a moment to shine, like the scene in the trailer when she challenges Ghezo’s male soldiers, as much as Nawi, as she challenges the way things are and done due to her stubbornness.

The same goes for Nanisca and Amenza. Atim isn’t swallowed by Davis’ performance but rather treated as an equal, someone Davis can lean on when Nanisca has grown weak, and she needs Amenza to be the scene’s strength. There is this beautiful give and take that ebbs and flows in such a way that “The Woman King” deserves a pedestal on how to show strong women without having to remove any sense of femininity.

I mean, while it might be superficial for some, you can’t discount that as strong and credible as everyone looks as warriors, they are still beautiful, medium, and dark tones Black women. Their hair, whether a queen like Shante or warrior like Nanisca is adorned with braids, shells, and allowed to be as curly as a Black person’s hair can get. I’d even submit the pride that many got from “Black Panther,” I think should be replicated from seeing all of these women in such powerful positions without compromise.

Its Presentation Of The Slave Trade

When it comes to slavery, the main focus is usually how Europeans brought Africans to the Americas, raped them, erased their cultures, and subjugated them to detestable conditions for generations. The part that is always skipped over is that the reason the Europeans even were able to get slaves was that other Africans sold members of the tribes and nations they defeated.

Ghezo (John Boyega) watching over his soldiers
“Ghezo (John Boyega) watching over his soldiers,” The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2022, (TriStar Pictures)

Now, is this to say all of them loved this practice and relished in war to see people who looked similar to them be put in chains and shipped off across the Atlantic? No. For Dahomey, it clearly has done the nation well, but at the same time, it isn’t lost upon many how this trans-Atlantic slave trade is different from how many nations would capture and integrate those captured, as seen with Amenza, who was not born Dahomey yet is second in command to the Agojie. Few, if any, like Malik, get to come back to their mother’s land, see where they were taken from, and perhaps even fall in love with a girl from back home.

Which is why seeing Nanisca fight against not only the opinions of her king and one of the king’s wives but also taking on actual slavers? There is a deep-level cathartic release that comes from that.

On The Fence

Not As Violent As You May Want Or Expect

Nanisca and the Agojie fight in full-scale battles where there are muskets, swords, knives, lances, and more. Yet, seemingly to keep that PG-13 rating and make the most money, the brutality you’d expect from full-scale wars and battles of the size “The Woman King” has is tapered down. Yes, you see bullet wounds, blood, and signs someone was stabbed. However, a lot of time, especially on the side of Nanisca’s army, you don’t get that full sense of what happened.

To me, this sort of undercuts the inevitable losses we experience in the film. For while you will get connected to many members of the Agojie, including those Nawi comes up with during her training, the lack of graphic ends takes away from the moment. Mainly since it leaves you feeling like you see the same handful of faces all actors make to portray dying. Be it the big-eyed, “Oh s***” look or them completely shutting down their faces to the point of looking sleepy.

Also, alongside undercutting the sadness of losing protagonists, it takes away from that joy of seeing people you have been pushed to hate getting defeated. This isn’t to say, regarding this topic, it needs to be “Game of Thrones” or something out of a Quentin Tarintino film. More so, by not showing the brutality of war, beyond flashbacks of a rape scene, it undercuts the threat Nansica constantly presents.

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Ending Explained

Nanisca (Viola Davis) after a battle
“Nanisca (Viola Davis) after a battle,” The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2022, (TriStar Pictures)

Before Nanisca was a general, she was a trainee just like Nawi, and when she was captured, Oba Ade was among the many who raped her. With the help of Amenza, Nanisca hid becoming pregnant and having birth, as that would have kicked her out of the Agojie, and she asked Amenza to take care of it. Now, being that Amenza wasn’t going to kill a baby, she gave it to missionaries, and years later, so arrives Nawi, who has the shark tooth in her shoulder Nanisca planted on her child.

This needs to be noted for when King Ghezo declares his people will not pay tribute to the Oyo anymore, and Oba Ade comes to the gates ready for battle, Nawi is taken, which leads to Nanisca going after her, against Ghezo’s command. But, being that Nawi was captured with Izogie, and another member of the Agojie, before Nanisca even learns Nawi was captured, she was already planning for her freedom.

Sadly, during their attempt to escape, Izogie is killed, but, luckily for Nawi, she gets purchased by Malik, who she has been flirtatious with since meeting him. Now, when Nanisca shows up with Amenza and other soldiers, they raze the port where slaves and goods are sent to the Americas or Europe, and Malik gives Nawi what she needs for freedom. Following that, he screws over his childhood friend, the son of a slave trader, who is ripped apart.

And before the movie ends, Nanisca gets revenge on Oba Ade by killing him, and Nawi saves her from dying by the hands of a random soldier. This brings them closer, and after King Ghezo names Nanisca the Woman King, in private, Nawi and Nanisca acknowledge each other as mother and daughter and end the movie dancing together, celebrating Nanisca being crowned queen.

Is There Sequel/ Prequel Potential?

There could be a prequel focusing on Nansica’s rise to become leader of the agojie and the reign of Ghezo’s brother, which sounded tumultuous.

Title Card - The Woman King
The Woman King (2022) – Review/ Summary (with Spoilers)
Overall
Viola Davis gives a commanding performance, paired with a level of supporting talent rarely seen in action films, which makes “The Woman King” one of the most interesting films to come out, which isn’t an adaptation or part of a cinematic universe.
Highlights
How It Highlights Its Supporting Cast While Making It Clear Davis Is The Lead
Its Presentation Of The Slave Trade
Disputable
Not As Violent As You May Want Or Expect
84

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