Why Are People Talking About Boycotting The Woman King?
The new film about the Agojie, the all-female African army who inspired the fictional Dora Milaje in Marvel's "Black Panther," allows women "to look up on screen and see themselves heroic not as superheroes but real women," director Gina Prince-Bythewood says. "I want us to know that we still have so much fight to go and that we can do it together."
Viola Davis' new movie has sparked a fierce debate about Hollywood covering hard truths through a lens -- including slavery... resulting in some calling for a boycott of this one. "The Woman King" hit theaters this weekend, but almost as quickly as the hype for the flick started soaring... the pushback also began -- with some calling for an outright shunning because of what they perceive as whitewashing the history of the subjects depicted.
The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens, portrays the ancient West African Kingdom of Dahomey (today’s Republic of Benin) and its legendary all-women regiment, the Agodjie. The film, which opens this weekend, is a vision of Black female power, starring Viola Davis, Sheila Atim, Thuso Mbedu, and Lashana Lynch; its promotional material blurbs a review from Variety that calls the movie “the Gladiator of our time.” But how does The Woman King handle another part of Dahomey’s history—the kingdom’s involvement in the slave trade? At a time when the participation of African rulers and middlemen in the Atlantic slave trade gets described by Americans who want to divert attention from their own responsibility for the history of slavery as “African complicity,” this film’s task is delicate, indeed.
Fact Checking The Woman King
The criticism... the African tribe shown on screen, the Dahomey, as well as their all-female military regiment, the Agodjie, are presented as righteous, empowering liberators in all the marketing thus far... when in reality, they were knee-deep in the Atlantic slave trade. The record isn't pretty... Dahomey was one of a handful of tribes in the 17th/18th/19th centuries that captured and sold off Black slaves to Europeans -- a means of trade they continued for a good while... until the Brits actually forced them to stop in the mid-1800s.
The trailer doesn't allude to any of this whatsoever... it just shows Viola training a new wave of recruits for the African Agodjie in fashionable women's attire and battling against what appear to be white colonizers in a showdown. Because of this, it seems, a good handful of folks are crying foul -- alleging the studio, Sony, is attempting to rewrite history and downplay the Dahomey's part in all this. While some have made it clear they're against glorifying anyone who facilitated the slave trade, white or Black, and appear dead set on boycotting ... others are arguing people should see the film for themselves, saying it DOES in fact tackle the issue with nuance.
Who is Viola Davis in The Woman King
It’s not the first time that Dahomey and its female military company have appeared in the big screen. In 1987, the movie Cobra Verde, by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, based on the novel The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980) by Bruce Chatwin, represented the powerful West African kingdom and briefly depicted its women warriors. The new movie is also set in Dahomey, in 1823. But the central character is not a white slave trader, as in Herzog’s film, but rather Nanisca, a West African woman. Played by Davis, this woman warrior is the head of the Agodjie. These fighters were mainly recruited among the many dozens of royal wives of the king of Dahomey. European traders and travelers who visited the region as early as the 18th century referred to them as the “Amazons,” evoking the female fighters of Greek myth.
However, there've been some historians weighing in -- who are both educated on this subject and have seen the movie -- and they say ... yeah, 'TWK' does blur the lines a bit by making the Dahomey look more like victims of circumstance than willing participants. We haven't seen it yet, so we can't say for sure what is or isn't shown. What we do know is that the reviews are glowing -- but many critics aren't showing their cards on this specific issue of the slave trade and how the Dahomey's relationship to it is handled in the movie.
With that said, it seems reasonable to have folks go see it with their own two eyes and make up their own minds. While it's within everyone's right to boycott/call for a boycott -- it seems sorta silly without having absorbed the material and debating it after the fact.