By: Amanda Guarragi
In the 1800s, a group of all-female warriors protects the African kingdom of Dahomey with skills and fierceness, unlike anything the world has ever seen. The Woman King is director Gina Prince-Bythwood’s blockbuster epic that will pleasantly surprise moviegoers. It feels so grand in scale but the story becomes intimate for General Nanisca (Viola Davis). When Dahomey faces a new threat, she trains the next generation of recruits to fight against a foreign enemy determined to destroy their way of life. What worked well is that Dahomey felt lived in because the community comes together for their kingdom. Every aspect of this film came together to make a very strong blockbuster for Sony.
From the opening scene, Prince-Bythwood’s direction keeps the audience on the female warriors. They are synchronized as a unit when fighting and they all shine on screen. Being able to see women, more important Black women come together and show their strengths in this film was beyond empowering. The action sequences were very strong and the sound design made them even more effective. Every sound of the blade making contact or even a gunshot will bring you right into that moment with them. The way these women carried themselves made you want to understand their process and how they think so differently than others in Dahomey. It was a beautiful display of sisterhood and unity when protecting something you love.
The story goes much deeper than fighting for territory or trading with another. The emotional connection to General Nanisca comes when she faces her past. Davis gives another outstanding nuanced performance that carries so much weight in this film. She has personal issues to deal with that slowly unravel by the end. Prince-Bythwood and writer Dana Stevens construct this story about past trauma and how duty can sometimes take precedence over individual decisions. It’s heartbreaking to watch Davis process her past life before settling into her role as General for King Ghezo (John Boyega). The supporting cast all lifted each other in this film; from Izogie (Lashana Lynch) showing the duality of a warrior by being cocky and fun, to Amenza (Sheila Atim) caring for her sisters with her spirituality, and lastly, to the standout Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) who showed such resilience and kindness as a warrior.
The Woman King is an incredible epic from beginning to end. The action sequences are so well-done, but it’s more than just the physical battles. General Nanisca is tested on every level as she trains Nawi as well. Prince-Bythwood’s direction for certain flashbacks was very tasteful and impactful because women can remember past trauma in detail. Riches are abundant in this film from the production design to the costumes, everything about this was stunning to watch. It is an intimate story for a warrior, as General Nanisca struggles with her identity as a woman and her life as a whole in Dahomey. Women exploring different facets of themselves while still trying to hold everything together is the bravest thing they can ever do.