The Woman King

As if we needed something else to confirm Viola Davis’ place in the shrine of truly remarkable actresses, along comes The Woman King, an elaborately choreographed historical epic in which she towers over nearly every aspect of the film’s production.

Female-directed and with a largely female cast and crew, The Woman King has a lot of incredibly significant things going for it. But none is more powerful and all-encompassing than the fierceness with which Davis sinks herself into her portrayal of General Nanisca. She is the leader of the Agojie, a powerful all-female regiment of warriors who were tasked with protecting King Ghezo (John Boyega) of early 19th century Dahomey, a country now known as Benin on the western coast of Africa.

"a beautifully told story about history, vengeance, sacrifice and bravery that brings to light some awful truths"

As the film opens, we are dropped into the fray of an 1830s Africa, raging with human smuggling as Europeans swap valuable goods for captured slaves to take back to Europe and America. The Agojie are engaged in a furious battle with warriors of the Oyo Empire, a group who ruled over most of Western Africa by capturing and enslaving other Africans to sell as slaves.

The battle is ferocious with a cast of hundreds squaring off as swords clash, bodies flail, and heads are lopped off at will. Thankfully though, director Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Old Guard) creatively masks much of the violence with shadows, jump cuts, and other off-camera techniques which keeps the film faithful to its PG-13 rating, while also remaining available to younger audience members – a very important trait for such a culturally important film. I can’t wait to hear the stories of all the young black girls who were inspired by Davis’ General Nanisca.

Fight choreographer Jénel Stevens’s battle sequences are extremely well staged throughout and impressively filmed with precision by Prince-Bythewood. They are a thing of beauty, balletic in grace and agility as bodies twist and fly over one another in unison with swords and staffs twirling. All the while, tribal drum beats and beautiful vocals keep time to the rhythms of Sub-Saharan African music. It’s just beautiful!

However, the action sequences are always perfectly complemented by the film’s softer moments, particularly those in the main thrust of the film which feature a young girl named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu, TV’s The Underground Railroad) who defies her father’s wishes by refusing to marry an older, abusive man. As retribution for her disobedience, Nawi’s father gives his daughter to King Ghezo who enlists the girl in the Agojie army, where she trains to be a warrior, makes friends, and discovers a dark secret about herself.The Woman King

The Woman King is undoubtedly a true ensemble piece and everyone involved does a remarkable job with the physical requirements of their role, the difficult accents, and the hefty emotional moments as well. Lashana Lynch is memorable as Izogi, friend and mentor of young Nawi, as is Shiela Atim as Amenza, Nanisca’s right-hand woman. There’s also an intriguing love story involving Nawi and a dashing young French slave trader played by Santo Ferreira.

However, overshadowing everyone else is the hulking shadow of Davis, who more than handles her fight sequences like the badass she is, yet also brings the goods in her quieter, more emotional moments. I’d like to say that many of the other performances are likely to be remembered come Oscar season. They are all that good, but Davis is so raw, so enthusiastic, and so truly awe-inspiring here, she’s likely to overpower the memory of everyone else.

The Woman King is a beautifully told story about history, vengeance, sacrifice and bravery that brings to light some awful truths about the world. Truths in which America’s hands were unquestionably filthied. With rich themes of freedom, family, loyalty, and love of country, the great irony here is how American this story actually is. Something tells me those who need to see it, likely won’t.

4/5 stars

Film Details

The Woman King

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing material, thematic content, brief language and partial nudity.
135 mins
: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Dana Stevens
Viola Davis; Thuso Mbedu; Lashana Lynch
: War | Drama | Action
Inspired by True Events.
Memorable Movie Quote:
Theatrical Distributor:
Sony Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: September 16, 2022
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: A historical epic inspired by true events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries.


The Woman King