Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, one of the director’s largest-scale works to date, is packed with well-choreographed action carried out by the Agojie, a valiant army of women who defended the African kingdom of Dahomey for thousands of years.
The Woman King, written by Dana Stevens, is set in Dahomey (located in present-day Benin) during the 1820s. The story follows General Nanisca (played by Viola Davis), the leader of the elite Agojie fighting group dubbed “the Dahomey Amazons” by European outsiders. The Agojie not only were revered as warriors in West Africa but also played a prominent political role in their country. Nanisca is Dahomey’s prime defender, but she’s an advocate for seismic change as well, arguing that her king should move away from participating in the Atlantic slave trade—a major source of profit.
The standout cast also includes Lashana Lynch as the fierce warrior Izogie, who’s tasked with training Nawi, and Sheila Atim, who gives a strikingly empathetic performance as Amenza, the right-hand woman to Nanisca who counsels her through her most difficult decisions. Prince-Bythewood is skilled at building out elaborate worlds without clunky exposition, and the script makes The Woman King’s internal politics easy to grasp even though much is left unsaid. Boyega’s Ghezo is prickly, egotistical, and unsentimental.