Based on the real-life all-women Agojie warriors who defended the West African kingdom Dahomey (present-day Benin) during the 18th and 19th centuries, “The Woman King” centers on General Nanisca (Davis) and her military regime.
Davis and her fellow warrior co-stars — Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, and Adrienne Warren — underwent intense strength training, weightlifting, sprinting, and high-intensity workouts to transform into muscular fighters. Each actress additionally had two hours of weapons training with stunt coordinators.
The cast also underwent DNA testing with cast trainer and nutritionist Gabriela Mclain to hone in on their natural abilities and harness their respective strengths with premium targeted training, as Davis explained to People.
“I did the DNA testing on all of them, which helped me pretty much figure out the best way to train, the best way to protect their muscles and protect their body because they’re all different,” Mclain explained of the five lead stars. “There’s no one plan fits all. Everybody needs to train in a different way.”
“When I was a girl wanting to win the Miss Central Falls Recreation Contest — wanting to look good in a bikini, wanting to be thin and cute and delicate and pretty — I just wanted to be willowy and thin,” Davis said. “I was always muscular and thicker, and I felt like my femininity could not be created with this canvas. And then all of a sudden, with this role, my muscles, my arms, my thick legs, my heavy voice were perfect. I felt unapologetic about it. I celebrated it physically in every way.”
She added, “Sometimes you do a movie, and then it’s over. And sometimes, you do a movie, and it shifts you a little bit. You’re a little bit better for it. And that’s what it’s been like for me with the training.”
As for the reference point for the warrior physiques in the film, Mclain continued, “My goal was to pretty much make it natural, just as the woman would look if they were to go and fight because it’s based on true stories. I’m trying to stay authentic, even with the body. There’s all kinds of enhancers you can take to get lean and ripped and all that, but I did not want them to look like Miss Olympia, I tried to stay authentic so they look like warriors.”
The film is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) and written by Dana Stevens. John Boyega and Hero Fiennes Tiffin also star. “The Woman King” is set for a world premiere at TIFF 2022 before hitting theaters September 16.