“The Woman King”: Hollywood’s Lost Amazons


A band of severely trained black girls knock out the filthy phallocrats of rival gangs, tear down the supremacists and other white slavers, cultivate their Afro-feminine pride by maintaining an exemplary sorority. This could be the argument for a new tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s bis cinema, and no doubt it would have been better if it were. In truth, The Woman King is signed Gina Prince-Bythewood, director who, having no notable title to claim, here stages an Afro-feminist argument that aims to be “inspired by real events”.

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The action takes place in the kingdom of Dahomey (located in the south of present-day Benin) in 1824. Under the authority of King Ghézo, the female armed elite corps is considerably developed there. Known in French colonial memory as the “Dahomey Amazons”called by the natives the Agojie, these valiant women, intensively trained in the handling of weapons, show themselves to be formidable warriors who prove themselves to men. One of them, General Nanisca – played by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis, who also co-produced the film – plays a prominent role in the training of young recruits, including the intrepid and recalcitrant orphan Nawi, intended to defend the kingdom against the double actions of the deceitful and cruel Oyo rivals and the Brazilian white slave traders.

What emerges is a typically Hollywood fable that mixes codified fight scenes with a layer of filial melodrama as well as a dash of rather sexy tribal musical comedy. The regime of King Ghézo, himself very well made of his person, is described there as a kind of pro-feminist democratic model and laboratory of anti-slavery, where his antagonists, fanatics, turbaned and accomplices of the slave trade, are described as possible prototypes of the Islamic State. The formula, modeled on that of Black Panther by Ryan Coogler (2018), is obviously built on the intersectional martingale of black and feminist pride.

Distort historical reality

It works wonderfully, since the film, released on September 16 in the United States, made an excellent start there at 19 million euros. The Woman King nevertheless remains a relatively mediocre work, which continues to have its protagonists speak in primitive Africanized English when they are supposed to converse in their vernacular. Similarly, she would have us believe that female warriors subject to the adoration of a divine king, constrained as such to celibacy and sexual abstinence, can represent a model of female emancipation. Here we reach the limit of the “powerful woman”.

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“The Woman King”: Hollywood’s Lost Amazons