Tracker Pixel for Entry

​Film Review: Prince-Bythewood’s ‘The Woman King’

Cinema | October 2nd, 2022

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

Writing recently in The New Yorker, Julian Lucas shares commentary that places into context the ongoing controversies assailing Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical action drama The Woman King.

Set in West Africa during the years encompassing the grim slave trade, the film has a champion and star in Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Viola Davis, who portrays with force and intensity the title character General Nanisca of the Kingdom of Dahomey (in what is now Benin).

General consensus suggests that Prince-Bythewood’s 50-million-dollar film, which puts every cent – and then some – on the screen, will succeed despite any reasonable and unreasonable criticism it currently faces.

Even though Davis commands the headlining power, the film’s central protagonist is Thuso Mbedu’s Nawi, a tenacious orphan determined to enter the ranks of the Agojie, otherwise nicknamed the Dahomey Amazons by Western Europeans. Not in dispute is the existence of this electrifying military sisterhood, one of a tiny number of all-female, modern-era armies.

In the film’s early sections, Prince-Bythewood draws much from the pageantry of the trials and tests of mettle staged by Patty Jenkins in Wonder Woman. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, which features the Dora Milaje – its own cohort of elite women warriors partly inspired by the Agojie – is another notable cinematic relation.

The Hollywood version of any script claiming to be based on a “true story” invites detractors to engage in a game pointing out any and every historical inaccuracy and narrative embellishment. Regarding The Woman King, Julian Lucas takes the position that the “film’s conceit is, charitably, an elaborate exercise in wishful thinking.” At the heart of the matter: the one-sided depiction of a nation engaged in widespread enslavement being portrayed as philosophically abolitionist. Importantly, Lucas argues that The Woman King should not be held to a higher standard than the massive number of period films told from a white point of view, but the complete and complex argument should be read in full, in The New Yorker.

Clearly, most critics are on board with The Woman King, no matter its historical misrepresentations. And Prince-Bythewood, a veteran whose 2000 debut feature Love & Basketball is a contemporary classic, stages the battle sequences with drive and clarity.

But the script by Dana Stevens, based on a story by Stevens and Maria Bello, falls back on oversimplification when it should be embracing nuance and complexity. A subplot involving a forbidden romance between Nawi and a stupefyingly naive businessman-sailor named Santo Ferreira (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) is wholly unconvincing.

In an instant it is plain to see that Davis is superior to her material. She plays Nanisca with unrelenting resolve, square-jawed commitment, and looks that kill (both her own gaze and her fearsome mien). She brings a weariness and sadness to the commander that speaks volumes about her feelings toward King Ghezo (John Boyega), a supremely self-confident monarch who clearly relishes his power as much as he enjoys the pleasure of his multiple wives.

Like other elements in the film, the historical Ghezo differs from the fictionalized iteration. But for viewers who choose to focus on the adrenaline rush of the feminist warriors ready to challenge the patriarchy, The Woman King proudly wears its crown. 

Recently in:

By Laura Simmonslaurasimmons2025@u.northwestern.edu Gerald Briggs, the Warren County Mississippi Fire/EMS chief, was at a festival in February 2020 when a local law enforcement officer asked him if he had heard about the explosion…

By Michael M. Millermichael.miller@ndsu.edu Dwight Herr interviewed his father, Julius E. Herr of Wishek, North Dakota, in June 1979. Dwight provided a transcription and donated the “Life Story of Julius E. Herr” to the Germans…

Saturday, March 1611 a.m.Downtown FargoWear something green and celebrate spring during Fargo-Moorhead’s premier parade. Thousands of spectators line the streets, so arrive early to snag a prime spot. This community celebration…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.com When one googles “What traits are desirable in a new employee,” some of the first words that pop up “from sources around the web” include “communication,” “team player,”…

By Ed Raymondfargogadfly@gmail.comPoliticians could learn a lot by watching dung beetles work for a livingThe 400,000 species of beetles is the largest order of insects discovered on Planet Earth, so far. Insect researchers believe…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com Holiday wine shopping shouldn’t have to be complicated. But unfortunately it can cause unneeded anxiety due to an overabundance of choices. Don’t fret my friends, we once again have you covered…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com In this land of hotdish and ham, the knoephla soup of German-Russian heritage seems to reign supreme. In my opinion though, the French have the superior soup. With a cheesy top layer, toasted baguette…

The Aquarium, 226 Broadway North upstairs, Downtown FargoFriday, December 8, 7:30-11pmDoors 7:30 pm // Music 8 pm21+ // $10 advance // $12 DOSOver two decades, Christmas songs have appeared throughout Owen Ashworth’s recorded…

Now playing at the Fargo Theatre.By Greg Carlson gregcarlson1@gmail.comPalme d’Or recipient “Anatomy of a Fall” is now enjoying an award-season victory tour, recently picking up Golden Globe wins for both screenplay and…

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has directed humankind to new horizons – the ocean depths, the infinite reach of space, and the hidden secrets of cells and microbes…or to Artificial Intelligence, which…

By John Showalterjohn.d.showalter@gmail.comHigh Plains Reader had the opportunity to interview two mysterious new game show hosts named Milt and Bradley Barker about an upcoming event they will be putting on at Brewhalla. What…

By Annie Prafckeannieprafcke@gmail.com AUSTIN, Texas – As a Chinese-American, connecting to my culture through food is essential, and no dish brings me back to my mother’s kitchen quite like hotdish. Yes, you heard me right –…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comNew Jamestown Brewery Serves up Local FlavorThere’s something delicious brewing out here on the prairie and it just so happens to be the newest brewery west of the Red River and east of the…

By John Showalter  john.d.showalter@gmail.comThey sell fentanyl test strips and kits to harm-reduction organizations and…

JANUARY 19, 1967– MARCH 8, 2023 Brittney Leigh Goodman, 56, of Fargo, N.D., passed away unexpectedly at her home on March 8, 2023. Brittney was born January 19, 1967, to Ruth Wilson Pollock and Donald Ray Goodman, in Hardinsburg,…

By Faye Seidlerfayeseidler@gmail.com On the first day of the month I ask people to thank a journalist they know or someone who contributes to papers in some meaningful way. When I grew up, my best friend's father was a journalist…