"The Woman King" dramatizes the true story of the Agojie tribe, led by Viola Davis' General Nanisca.

After being an untold story for hundreds of years, people now learn an incredible tale of strong women soldiers in “The Woman King.”

This film received a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and earned an estimated $19 million in the box office, which was more money than what was predicted

The Agojie tribe is an all-female group of warriors from Africa that protects the kingdom of Dahomey. The women dedicate their lives to protecting the king and his people. In turn, they have to sacrifice a lot such as marriage and family along with having to follow intense rules such as do as you’re told no matter what circumstances.

While the plot revolves around the Agojie women, the film mainly focuses on a young girl named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) who doesn’t fit in with her village and its traditions. Instead, she tries to prove herself to the Agojie warriors looking for new recruits, especially the leader, Nanisca (Viola Davis), who struggles with a dark past.

Davis does an outstanding – maybe even award-winning – job portraying General Nanisca. She definitely emphasizes the character’s dedication toward the tribe and her duties. Davis also impresses viewers by taking her fighting skills to the next level to add courage to the character. When talking to CNN about the film, Davis brought up the training she went through and how it was unlike anything she’s ever done for a role. 

Mbedu also presents Nawi in a spectacular portrayal. Nawi is a trainee who’s hard working and committed to being a warrior. She definitely brings that similar commitment to the film adding more anticipation to her journey. She does a great job mixing determination and anxiety to her role. 

“The Woman King'' is based on a true story from the 1800s. The Agojie warriors did exist back then and so did the kingdom of Dahomey. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, this film was based on a true event that the tribe dealt with, but had some dramatic exaggeration. A few of the characters are based on real people while others were fictional and were meant to add momentum to the production. The true backstory of the tribe is intriguing independently, but production studios have a history of adding more to a true story than what there is, so it’s not a shock the same was done to this film.

Since Dahomey was a real kingdom and the Agojie tribe actually existed, the crew dug deep in order to be as accurate and authentic as possible. The design of the costumes for both the warriors had a courageous aesthetic to them, while the king and the others associated with him had vibrant luxurious looks to their outfits. They also had some specific traditions as well, such as a specific way the tribe would memorialized a fallen warrior.

A concept that people found controversial was that the Agojie tribe was associated with slave trade. The film partially covers this up by portraying the tribe to negotiate slavery with the Europeans when the real king was associated with trade, according to history. While the film does cover the serious subject of slavery, it’s an important part of the world and the Agojie history.

The cinematography of this film is one of the film’s best characteristics. There were several shots throughout the movie that added anticipation to it which made it hard to look away. It added extra intensity to fight scenes and moments of training. The filmmakers also use impressive camera technique like making sure their interactions show chains or cages when it came to slavery scenes. It gives off an emotional feeling that connects empathy and shock, which is what those scenes need.

Another concept that stood out was the theme of empowerment. This movie is empowering for all viewers but mostly so for women and the Black community. Due to the tribe being all-female, the film focuses on the women strengthening and training for battle, showing them attack opponents in a forceful manner and bonding. It also shows empowerment for the Black community. The entire tribe is made of Black women during the peak of the slave trade era. Some tribes were involved in the slave trade process, but were conflicted with it. Although the Europeans viewed Africans as being property they could buy, the tribe didn’t let the discrimination weaken them.

Since it’s a film focusing on protecting a tribe, there are a lot of fight scenes and intense training. While the cinematography did an incredible job escalating battle scenes, some moments got more graphic than others. It’s not extremely graphic, but does show some of the aftermath. There are also some moments of sensitivity that could be triggering but make a major impact on how the story’s told. 

“The Woman King” is a film filled with so many components but not in a way that’s overwhelming or cluttered. It’s a part of world history that doesn’t get recognized enough in the entertainment industry. While it’s not the exact story told by historians, the film crew delivers it where it educates and entertains viewers simultaneously. 

Contact Gracie Brogowski at brogowsx@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.