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.eduSummit Carbon Solutions approached North Dakota land owner Kurt Swensonin August 2021, requesting to lease out Swenson’s land to sequester, or store, carbon dioxide underground…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comExhibit recreates and examines the iconic bar’s legacyThere’s something to be said about a good bar. The really good ones serve as a sort of community living room, bringing folks from all walks…

Saturday, December 10, doors 8pm, show at 9pmThe Aquarium, FargoHeavy fuzz rock straight outta Fargo with Hevvy Swetter and Prediction of the Witch.“Closely related to stoner rock, it tends to focus upon downtuned, heavy guitar.…

By HPR Staffsubmit@hpr1.comOur opinion: How can it be 17 years?It’s hard to believe that Ralph’s has been gone for 17 years. I was lucky enough to experience the tail end of its legacy, though technically I wasn’t old enough…

By Ed Raymondfarhogadfly@gmail.com Why Not Pass Black-White Flag Laws to Label Who Lies, Cheats, and Stinks?We have “red flag” laws in 19 states to keep weapons out of the hands of malcontents and the mentally unbalanced who…

Well shiver me timbers. After weeks of sampling some of the finest drinks in F-M from more bars than we could shake a belaying pin at, the results of High Plains Reader’s 6th Annual Cocktail Showdown are in! For nine weeks,…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.comAs someone who’s written a lot of feature stories and press releases, it’s tempting to write something cheesy as a lead for this month’s column. But, instead, this column will actually feature…

By Martin Beckmanbeckmanniscool@gmail.comSpec is a new hardcore band from the Fargo area featuring Josh on guitar, Ethan on vocals, Austin on guitar, Landon on bass and Robby– drummyboy. Spec has been creating waves with their…

By Greg Carlsongregcarlson1@gmail.com“Citizenfour” Oscar-winner Laura Poitras profiles photographer and activist Nan Goldin in “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.” Like its talented subject, the movie cannot be confined to a…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comIf you’ve ever driven down the Enchanted Highway, the 32-mile ribbon of road connecting Regent to Gladstone in western North Dakota, home to the world’s largest salvaged metal sculptures,…

By Jessica M. Hawkesjmhawkes84@gmail.comIt wasn’t long after the founding of the railroad and river town of New Rockford that entertainment venues started to put down their own roots. Its population bolstered by booms of nearby…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comCharlie Berens is a man of many hats. The creator of the “Manitowoc Minute” is a newsman, comedian, writer and musician. We had the opportunity to speak with the Wisconsin native about his new…

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comSpring is here (mostly), and our area is buzzing with people eager to get back out and about -- many newly vaccinated and feeling a bit safer. Partnering with Jade Events, Fargo Brewing is just…

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

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comPhoto by: Michelle Tait, Memory Makers Old Time PhotographyIn August URL Radio personality Stacy Sturm knew she wanted to do something for Halloween. She tossed around the thought of a Halloween…

By Waylon Hedegaardretiringwithcats@gmail.comFor all those who still decry my departure from the Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian faith, understand that I will never return. I see the examples you set and want no part of…