At The Movies: The lioness ‘King’
BY PAUL WILLISTEIN
“The Woman King” is a powerful and important film.
The movie is paced by a stunning performance by Viola Davis, a solid performance by John Boyega and a break-out performance by Thuso Mbedu. Look for multiple Oscar nominations.
“The Woman King” can be placed in the annals of Hollywood cinema as a kind of prequel to “Amistad” (1997), director Steven Spielberg’s tragic tale about a Spanish ship that carried African slaves to the United States, and “Twelve Years A Slave” (2013), director Steve McQueen’s brutal account about enslaved Africa-Americans on a southern plantation.
“The Woman King” is based on a true story about The Agojie, a female warrior group in the kingdom of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) in West Africa in the 17th to 19th centuries.
The Dahomey, depicted in the film as opposed to the trading of Africans as slaves, goes to war with the Oyo Empire, depicted as selling Africans captured in battle to white slave-traders.
The movie takes place in 1823. It’s believed that approximately 12.5 million people from Africa were enslaved.
General Nanisca (Viola Davis) is leader of the female warriors, who serve King Ghezo (John Boyega). The women warriors were known pejoratively in the western world at the time as Amazons, named for female warriors of Greek mythology.
The dynamics, rivalries and intense training of the female warriors and the court intrigue of the king take up the first-portion of the “The Woman King.”
The middle part of “The Woman King” is about the battle between the Agojie tribe and Oyu Empire.
A subplot has to do with the romantic attraction between Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a female warrior-in-training, and Malik (Jordan Bolger), a slave-trader whose mother was a member of the Dahomey tribe.
The third part, or third act, of “The Woman King” is about the tribe attempting to rise up against the white slave-traders, a huge battle sequence between the female warriors and the white slave-traders, and the outcome and results of the battle.
“The Woman King” recalls epic Hollywood swords and sandals films, including “Braveheart” (1995) and “Gladiator” (2000), for its choreographed battle scenes. While brutal and tension-filled, the battle scenes in “The Woman King” are mercifully free of squib-squirting fake blood.
As portrayed by Viola Davis in an all-encompassing brilliant performance, General Nanisca is a reluctant warrior. Even while disposing a foe, there’s a weariness and reluctance in the deeply-expressive eyes of Davis that let’s you know she wishes is wasn’t so.
Davis (“The Help,” 2011; “Doubt,” 2008; Actress Oscar recipient, “Fences,” 2016) conveys the film’s backstory that leads to a twist ending that is emotionally-charged. Get out your packs of Kleenex. I did. No spoilers here, though. Look for a lead actress Oscar nomination for Davis.
John Boyega gives a solid and non-showy turn as the king. His steady gaze and firm stance yield yet another fine performance for Boyega (“Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker,” 2019).
Thuso Mbedu is outstanding in a supporting role as a young female warrior-in-training. Mbedu (TV’s “The Underground Railroad,” 2021) is dynamic, charming and engaging as a twenty-something who is finding herself and getting her footing as an independent young woman.
Memorable in supporting roles: Lashana Lynch (“No Time to Die”), Izogie, a female warrior; Jimmy Odukoya (General Oba Ade, the Oyu tribe king, and Sheila Atim (Amenza, a female warrior).
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood melds the character dialogue scenes and action scenes seamlessly.
Prince-Bythewood (director, “The Old Guard,” 2020; “The Secret Life of Bees,” 2008; “Love and Basketball,” 2000) proves to be a consummate film-maker who rises to the level of an A-List director with “The Woman King.” Look for a director Oscar nomination.
The screenplay was written by Dana Stevens (screenwriter, “Life or Something Like It,” 2002; “Blink,” 1993) from a story she wrote with Maria Bello (actress, in her theatrical story debut).
The cinematography by Polly Morgan (“Where the Crawdads Sing,” 2022; “A Quiet Place, Part II,” 2020) utilizes wonderful lighting and creative camera angles.
The score by Terence Blanchard combines traditional African singing, with choirs and percussion for a compelling mix that propels the film.
“The Woman King” tells the story of a significant but apparently little-known aspect of African-American history during a war of brother against brother, not in the United States but in Africa.
“The Woman King,”
MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.) for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing material, thematic content, brief language and partial nudity; Genre: Action, Drama, History; Run time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. Distributed by Sony Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous:
The Marvel Cinematic Universe “Black Panther” (2018) included a fictionalized version of the Agojie tribe of “The Woman King.”
“Keep Rising (The Woman King),” written by Jessy Wilson, Jeremy Lutito, and Angélique Kidjo, was originally created by Wilson, who rewrote it so that Kidjo could sing in her native Beninese language Fon.
At The Movies:
“The Woman King” was seen in the Dolby Theatre at AMC, AMC Center Valley 16.
Theatrical Movie Domestic Box Office,
Sept. 23 - 25: “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Harry Styles and Florence Pugh, opened at No. 1 with $19.2 million, in 4,113 theaters, as “The Woman King” dropped from its one-week No. 1 run to No. 2 with $11.1 million in 3,765 theaters, $36.2 million, two weeks.
The re-release of “Avatar” opened with $10 million in 1,860 theaters, in the 3D and Imax format. “Avatar” is the biggest grossing film worldwide and fourth biggest-grossing domestically.
4. “Barbarian” dropped two places, $4.8 million, in 2,890 theaters, $28.4 million, three weeks. 5. “Pearl” dropped two places, $1.9 million, in 2,982 theaters, $6.6 million, two weeks. 6. “See How They Run” dropped two places, $1.9 million, in 2,502 theaters, $6.1 million, two weeks. 7. “Bullet Train” dropped two places, $1.8 million, in 1,907 theaters, $99.2 million, eight weeks. 8. “DC League of Super-Pets” dropped one place, $1.7 million, in 2,351 theaters, $90 million, nine weeks. 9. “Top Gun: Maverick” dropped three places, $1.5 million, in 2,025 theaters, $711.5 million, 18 weeks. 10. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” dropped one place, $1 million, 1,642 theaters, $365.5 million, 13 weeks.
Movie box office information from Box Office Mojo as of Sept. 25 is subject to change.
Rated R: Nicholas Stoller directs Billy Eichner, Luke MacFarlane, Kristin Chenoweth and Kenan Thompson in the Comedy. Two men with issues attempt a relationship.
“Dead for a Dollar,”
R: Walter Hill directs Rachel Brosnahan, Willem Dafoe and Christoph Waltz in the Western. A bounty hunter encounters a professional gambler he had sent to prison.
“The Good House,”
R: A New England Realtor meets an old flame from New York. Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarksy direct Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline in the comedy.
Movie opening dates information from Internet Movie Database as of Sept. 25 is subject to change.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes