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Lupita Nyong’o on ‘Woman King’ Departure: ‘It Wasn’t the Role for Me to Play’

After being cast, Nyong'o made a short documentary about the tribe at the center of Gina Prince-Bythewood's film.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 18: Lupita Nyong'o attends the world premiere of Universal Pictures' "NOPE" at TCL Chinese Theatre on July 18, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic)

Lupita Nyong’o

FilmMagic

Lupita Nyong’o is addressing why she walked away from Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” back in 2020.

Nyong’o, who leads the upcoming Marvel tentpole “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” told The Hollywood Reporter that she was set to play an Agojie warrior in the historical epic starring Viola Davis, who also produces. The Agojie tribe inspired the fictional Dora Milaje female army in “Black Panther.”

After being cast in “The Woman King,” Nyong’o made a short documentary on the Agojie tribe called “Warrior Women With Lupita Nyong’o.” Per THR, the Academy Award winner “grapples uncomfortably with the tribe’s legacy of violence” in the short. Ultimately, Nyong’o exited “The Woman King” following the documentary.

“It was very amicable, the departure from it,” Nyong’o said, declining to discuss specifics. “But I felt it wasn’t the role for me to play.”

Upon release, “The Woman King” faced internet backlash, with the hashtag #BoycottWomanKing trending on Twitter due to the Agojie tribe and Kingdom of Dahomey participating in the European slave trade. The film centers on Davis’ General Nanisca, who tries to convince the king (John Boyega) to stop participating in the slave trade.

“It created all sorts of internal conflict, and we don’t hesitate in visiting that within the film,” producer Cathy Schulman told IndieWire.

Fellow Marvel actress Lashana Lynch presumably took over the role Nyong’o was slated to play. Nyong’o also exited the upcoming Apple TV+ series “Lady in the Lake,” which stars Natalie Portman; she was replaced with “Obi-Wan Kenobi” breakout Moses Ingram.

“I’m desperate for small projects,” Nyong’o told THR. “They’re harder to get off the ground, they’re harder to stay on track. Bigger movies elbow them out of the way. The pandemic and the fiscal stress on the industry has made it even harder for those movies to get made.”

As for balancing Marvel and “Star Wars” roles with independent films, Nyong’o added, “I think to be culturally prosperous, to be artistically prosperous as a people, is to have options. I personally love a good Marvel movie, but it doesn’t take me away from really wanting the little character-driven film. I believe in the fight for those things to be kept alive because the one thing we always want, the ultimate privilege, is choice.”

The “Us” actress concluded, “It becomes a philosophical question about what is art and what is its purpose. I believe that art plays a role in moving the people that experience it, and a lot of people are moved by Marvel. Is you being moved by this thing less important than me being moved by Picasso?”

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