By Melvin Twigg Mason
Most of us have heard of the fierce group of female warriors known as The Amazons (Xena, Wonder Woman, et al). But most of us do NOT know that this fictional people group is based on an actual, historical African troupe. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”, “Secret Life of Bees”, and “Beyond the Lights”) brings to the big screen the most fact-based accounting thus far with the release of “The Woman King” from Tri-Star and Sony Pictures.
The Agojie militia (pronounced ah-GOH-jay’), dubbed by the western slave traders as “Dahomey Amazons” (pronounced deh-HO’-may), was an all-female royal guard developed in the late 1700s for the kingdom of Dahomey, a nation sandwiched between Togo and Nigeria in the Gold Coast region of West Africa. “Agojie” is the war cry that a commander shouts to workup her troops just before a battle. Her soldiers reply “Wu Su” in frenzied agreement. Viola Davis plays fictional General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie in the 1820s. She is basically considered 2nd in command to King Ghezo, played by John Boyega (“Pacific Rim: Uprising”, “Star Wars:The Force Awakens”). The General is faced with hard times due to ongoing flare-ups with neighboring tribes and the growing Spanish slave trade in their region. In the midst of all this, Nanisca takes an interest in a new recruit, Nawi, an orphan whose adopted father gives her up to join the Agojie warriors. Little did the General nor Nawi realize that their paths had crossed before…
Davis plays General Nanisca with passion and veracity, her dead-pan facial expressions communicating more than any words could. The 19-year-old character, Nawi (which introduces 31-year-old South African actress Thuso Mbedu to American screens), actually looks barely sweet 16. Yet her growth into a warrior is nonetheless fierce and unmistakable. Besides the central theme of life in the Agojie ranks, TV-actress-turned-screenwriter Maria Bello (“E.R.”) also seamlessly blends into the main plot Nawi’s back story of being an orphan prior to her involvement with the Agojie.
For all of her impassioned bravado, Lashana Lynch’s (“Captain Marvel”, “No Time To Die”) character, Izogie, is also a warm and caring mentor. Lynch & Boyega told IMDb On The Scene that nearly 100% of their furious fight sequences are performed by the actors themselves thanks to fight choreographer Daniel Hernandez (“The Gray Man”, “John Wick”). The Agojie’s battle attire, as well as Boyega’s kingly robes, are a credit to costume designer Gersha Phillips (“Star Trek: Discovery”, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”).
Though the Agojie have since faded into history, they have inspired several fictional facsimiles, including most recently, the all-female Dora Milaje from Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther.” Indeed, this film is as epic and pride-inducing as “Black Panther.” At two hours and 14 minutes, “The Woman King” is one of the most heartfelt and heart-pounding cinematic rides of 2022. Currently it is only available in theaters, but this must-see work may come to Netflix (because of their deals with Sony) within 5-6 months.