The Woman King

The Woman King

2022, PG-13, 134 min. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, John Boyega, Sheila Atim.

REVIEWED By Sarah Jane, Fri., Sept. 16, 2022

Viola Davis absolutely kicks ass and doesn’t even bother to take any names in The Woman King, the new historical epic by director Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights).

Set in the West African nation of Dahomey during the 1820s, The Woman King is about the Agojie, an all-female fighting unit who protected the kingdom and its king from all threats. At this time, that means both the slave-trading European colonizers and the Oyo Empire, to which Dahomey is a tribute state. Nanisca (Davis) is a general and leader of the Agojie. She, along with Amenza (Atim), and Izogie (Lynch) train young women to become soldiers in the name of King Ghezo (Boyega). Nawi (Mbedu) is dropped off at the King’s doorstep after refusing to marry the men her father had lined up for her. The story follows Nawi as she begins her training to become an Agojie. While she learns their martial arts, it’s only a matter of time before the Agojie will be called into action again to keep the kingdom safe from invaders on all sides.

If the Agojie sound familiar, it’s because they were fictionalized as the Dora Milaje in Black Panther and several other Marvel projects. In The Woman King, Prince-Bythewood has gone to great lengths to portray the Agojie as accurately as possible. The characters in the film are fictionalized versions of the real women warriors, of course, but wow, these women were an amazing fighting force who protected their kingdom for centuries.

Davis is tremendous as Nanisca: She leads this cast into battle with her and they conquer completely. But while there’s no doubt that she is the star, it’s Lashana Lynch that steals the show. Not sure there’ll be anyone who doesn’t fall in love with Izogie by the end of the film.

The Woman King has been compared to Gladiator and, sure, there are similarities, but this film is better than Ridley Scott's Roman epic. There’s not a lot wrong with it. It looks beautiful, the costumes are gorgeous, the fight scenes are terrific, and there is a nice bit of gore. It may be a long haul to the eventual battle but don’t let that dissuade you from signing up.

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More Gina Prince-Bythewood Films
Beyond the Lights
A popular singer finds the courage to be herself with the help of a friendly cop.

William Goss, Nov. 21, 2014

The Secret Life of Bees
Despite the sincere coming-of-age story at the heart of this movie rife with singers-turned-actresses, there's no denying the pleasures found in the film's soulful matriarchy.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 17, 2008

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The Woman King, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, John Boyega, Sheila Atim

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