If 2022 has done anything for movies, it’s that it brought back original blockbusters with a vengeance, I mentioned this in so many of my reviews this year but it’s also worth noting how blockbusters with mainly people of colour have been so successful this year. From ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ being the highest-grossing A24 movie to Jordan Peele’s ‘NOPE‘ which up until a few weeks ago was the top-grossing horror film of the year worldwide. ‘The Woman King’ stars Viola Davis leading the Agojie, a group of African women trained to become warriors in the early 1800s to protect their home of Dahomey. Just by the synopsis alone, I immediately knew I wanted to watch this movie, it was given a decent marketing campaign and quite a decent budget so I did my best to go into the movie as blind as possible. I only saw glimpses of the trailer and really, just the posters. I cannot tell you how great it is to trust a movie blindly like that and ‘The Woman King’ absolutely delivered. This is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year and sadly one of the overlooked ones as well.
very mild spoilers for ‘The Woman King’ are featured in this review.
Sadly, ‘The Woman King’ did not have a long life at my local theatre, it spent around two weeks before being cut back to basically nothing, and by the end of the third week it was gone. What was quite unfortunate was that I didn’t get the chance to go watch it in theatres which is really tragic because this is a gorgeous movie. What I did get to experience however was seeing so many Black audience members coming to support this movie in large groups. It put a smile on my face every single time. Despite deeply regretting not watching it in theatres, watching it at home still delivered that rush of power that the movie so naturally flaunts.
Before getting into the proper review, however, I would like to point out the controversial misuse of historical figures. It doesn’t hurt to do a bit of research when watching a historical epic and boy did ‘The Woman King’ need it. While Dahomey was a real place and the Agojie were a real group of warriors, the movie really didn’t focus on how they also got their primary source of goods like gunpowder and alcohol from trading slaves themselves. In fact, Dahomey is quite infamous for its huge part in the slave trade. Viola Davis’ entire character Nanisca was fictional as expected but that also means that her suggestion of getting Dahomey’s main source of income from selling palm oil instead of slaves was also never true. It is also quite horrifying that 800 slaves were sacrificed in honour of King Ghezo when he was assassinated. ‘The Woman King’ doesn’t exactly shy away from this but it never really embraces Dahomey’s dark side and shows what actually happened. When it comes to movies like this, it’s always important to properly educate yourself on what you are watching so you don’t end up taking the movie’s word as truth. Many people rightfully have a gripe with this movie because of how it depicts Dahomey. My take is that you shouldn’t really count on movies for the actual truth. Is the movie irresponsible for how it depicts the story, it’s debatable but at the end of the day, a movie’s purpose is to entertain and ‘The Woman King’ did just that.
From lively and colourful shots of Africa filled to the brim with culture, life and humanity to hard-hitting action sequences filmed with thrilling choreography, ‘The Woman King’ really is a movie full of life and energy. I found myself viewing it as an adult Disney movie at times with hints of ‘Mulan‘ and ‘The Lion King‘ which carry similar atmospheres and story beats. This movie carries a similar pace and structure to those movies. Just like those movies, it balances serious themes with heart and vivacity perfectly. It very much feels like a 90s movie. It’s a movie that focuses on very serious topics but it doesn’t let those topics loom over it which for some could be a problem, understandably so. It’s a movie with characters that you root for intensely and you find many characters to root for in the Agojie. Spending time with this badass group of women was very fun. I loved the training, discipline and strong focus on women and the familial community they built.
In fact, ‘The Woman King’ would not work without its fantastic characters. Viola Davis fearlessly leads this incredible cast as Nanisca, a powerful protagonist whom Davis brings to life and fills with depth with a masterful performance. Her emotional subtlety in the quieter scenes where her facial expressions do all the talking for her and her badass commitment to such a physical role is truly admirable to see. The same goes for ‘Hot Ones’ episode which is without a doubt one of the best things to hit the internet in 2022. Lashana Lynch as Izogie is a stellar stand-out, the perfect blend of heart and fierce strength. Highly deserving of a Best Supporting Oscar nod. Thuso Mbedu as a surprising second lead with Nawi is the heart of the movie. Seeing her character grow and better herself was one of the movie’s greatest strengths. The twist halfway through the movie is fantastic and I won’t give it away but it completely worked for me. John Boyega and Sheila Atim are also worth noting, I hope everyone in this cast gets great work from this.
Overall, ‘The Woman King’, while not the most historically accurate epic, it’s definitely one of the more moving entries. With a great cast led by Davis, fantastic sets and colours and great action and heart, it’s a true crowd-pleaser and it should get recognized during awards season. If you haven’t seen it, give it a go but make sure to read up afterwards.
‘The Woman King‘ is now available for purchase.