Based on the real life, Agojie, the fearless warrior women who acted as the king’s guard and kept Dahomey (now Benin) safe in the 19th century, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King is a thunderous action film. It praises the strength of Black women and the power of sisterhood. The Women King had been a passion project for Viola Davis for several years. She didn’t hold back when she finally got the opportunity to transform into Nanisca, the Agojie’s general.
In the film, Nanisca is focused on the future.
With a new king (John Boyega) on the throne, she is determined to pull Dahomey away from the slave trade. With her top soldiers, Amenza (Sheila Atim) and Izogie (Lashana Lynch), by her side, Nanisca has a new crop of recruits to train so that the Agojie may defeat their rival, tribe Oyo and be done with the slave trade for good.
However, Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a defiant recruit, will show Nanisca that sometimes the best thing to do is turn your back on the rules.
Davis and her team had been fighting for six years to get the film made before it was ever greenlit.
“Two days before we left for the movie, we didn’t think it was going to happen,” she explained. “It is always a fight as a Black artist to get films made. The journey from the inception of the idea to seeing it on screen, if you ever see it on screen, cannot be quantified, cannot be explained, has never been explained. By the time you see it on social media, it’s been reduced to two seconds of, oh yeah, I wanted to do the film, and then suddenly it was made because I was badass. No, it doesn’t work like that.”
Prince-Bythewood, whose career has spanned over two decades, was overwhelmed when Davis asked her to come aboard as director-- Prince-Bythewood, whose career has spanned over two decades, was overwhelmed when Davis asked her to come aboard as director-- so much so that she was moved to tears.
“The connection was guttural for me, this film,” she explained. “And certainly when you’re going in to get a job as a director, you have to portray strength and swagger, and I can get us through this, and I can handle these millions of dollars. But there was something about being in that room and being with Viola, and I went for the truth. I always go for the truth, but I went for the truth.”
For Mbedu, the bond that the actors and crew created on set began with Prince Bythewood's leadership.
“She really believes in having personal relationships with all the actors, and that went a long way,” The Underground Railroad actor explained. “She would drive me home because I don’t have a car. I took the bus sometimes. And I thought she was the coolest. And then working with Viola. It’s still a running joke amongst us cast members where we say it’s trauma bonding because of how hard the training was. It was absolutely brutal. But we’re always there to lift each other up when you feel like, OK, you’re not able to do this today, but you have someone else to look to who then lifts you up. It was hard not to connect on many different levels because of the type of story we’re telling.”