While Viola Davis’ “The Woman King” is kicking butt and taking names, controversy is brewing over the highly anticipated film. The movie, which premiered Sept. 16, shocked critics with a $19 million opening weekend take (it was only expected to make $12 million). Those who saw it are singing the film’s praises, while those who didn’t are calling for a boycott.
Critics lit into the film for what they say is the whitewashing of the history behind some of the characters depicted in the action-packed flick. The historical film tells the story of the Agojie, the epic female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries. Viola Davis plays the fierce general, Nanisca, who trains the next generation of warriors to fight back against their enemies.
The film appears to celebrate the fearlessness and tenacity of the all-female military unit, but some history buffs weren’t too pleased with the way the movie’s director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, downplayed the Dahomey’s involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dahomey and their all-female military regiment became notorious for capturing and selling African slaves to Europeans. Between 1851 and 1852, the British imposed a naval blockade on the ports of Dahomey forcing the tribe to end the exportation of slaves from their bases.
Some social media users urged viewers to boycott “The Woman King.”
After the movie premiered, a few critics took to social media bashing “The Women King’s” production company Sony for “attempting to rewrite” history by leaving the harsh historical fact out of the film. Some naysayers urged viewers to boycott the action movie, like podcaster Antonio Moore who called it “the most offensive film to Black Americans in 40-50 years.” Another user accused Hollywood of “glorifying and whitewashing” the “truth” of Africans being traded into slavery.
Even though the story is rooted in truth, producers want people to understand it is largely fictionalized. Native Texan Julius Tennon, who co-produced the movie and is married to Davis, describes it as “edu-tainment,” insisting that the production has “to entertain people” because otherwise, “that would be a documentary.”
He said if the movie didn’t entertain, then “people wouldn’t be in the theaters doing the same thing we saw this weekend. We didn’t want to shy away from the truth. The history is massive, and there are truths on that that are there. If people want to learn more, they can investigate more.”
Ultimately, Davis insists that the movie examines women who were forced into battle or faced death. “They were recruited between the ages of 8 and 14,” said Davis. “They were recruited by the king to fight for the kingdom of Dahomey. They were not allowed to marry or have children. The ones who refused the call were beheaded.”
Davis doesn’t seem too concerned with the criticism. Earlier this year, she responded to calls for boycotts: “Don’t come see it, then, you’re sending a message that Black woman can’t lead a box office globally, and that you are supporting that narrative.” But speaking with Variety, she focused on the positivity she experienced in the audience’s enjoyment. “I saw a TikTok video today of women in a bathroom of an AMC theater, and I don’t think they knew each other. They were all chanting and ruminating. That cannot be quantified by words.”
Defender hosts premiere
The feel was festive. The energy was electric. And the vibe was vibrant. The 300-plus attendees of the Defender Network’s State of Black Women (SOBW) exclusive movie premiere of “The Woman King” enjoyed themselves and left the theater raving about this must-see flick.
But truth be told, attendees were hyped even before walking into the Regal Edwards Greenway Grand Palace theater on Sept. 15. And much of that energy was captured via pics of the folk who were in the house.
Photos by: Aswad Walker and Jimmie Aggison