The real-life Agoji female warriors are now receiving their proper due on the big screen.
“The Woman King” stars Viola Davis as General Nanisca, who led the all-women warriors in defense of the West African kingdom Dahomey in present-day Benin during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Lashana Lynch, John Boyega, and Thuso Mbedu also star in the film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Old Guard,” “Love & Basketball”) and written by Dana Stevens. “The Woman King” premieres in theaters September 16.
“I’ve never had a role like this before. It’s transformative,” lead star and producer Davis told Vanity Fair. “There’s always a vision you have for your career, but there are very few roles as an actress of color. Dark skin with a wide nose and big lips. I’m just going to continue to say it. Those stories are extraordinarily limited…It is hard to be an artist, hard to be a Black artist, and even harder to be a Black female artist.”
Davis addressed the lack of historical depictions of the Agoji, saying, “There is one book, ‘The Amazons of the Black Sparta’ — written by a white man. I had to cross out a lot of it because it was full of editorial comments like, ‘They looked like beasts. They were ugly. They were mannish.’ You had to sift through all of that.”
To transform into General Nanisca for the “female ‘Braveheart,'” as the film is billed via Vanity Fair, Davis underwent martial arts and weaponry training, plus weight training and sprinting for four hours a day, five days a week.
“It was a different state of mind to tap into that spirit, that bravery,” Davis shared.
Director Prince-Bythewood wanted to maintain the authenticity of the story, adding, “These women were fascinating and didn’t need to be embellished or glossy. I wanted it to be real and visceral and raw. We didn’t want to show them as just one thing — badass women who killed. They also laughed and loved and cried. We wanted to show their full humanity, not just the cool part that that would look good in a trailer.”
Check out the first look at the film below.