Inspired by a true story, The Woman King follows Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) – a young woman sent by her father to join the King’s guard known as the Agojie (an inspiration for the Black Panther’s Dora Milaje). The Agojie are fierce protectors that use martial arts, spears, knives, and other weaponry to protect their King and The Kingdom of Dahomey. The Agojie are commanded by Nanisca (Viola Davis) and her trusted warriors Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim).
The opening moments of the film show the Agojie battling a group of men from another kingdom that kidnapped other Africans, presumably to trade to white slavers. Nanisca is worried that a great threat is coming as the Dahomey find themselves in conflict with other kingdoms and white slavers. She is also working with King Ghezo (John Boyega) to work on trading/selling palm oil instead of selling their people and other Africans into slavery.
Nawi is one of the new trainees learning the ways of the Agojie as the outside threats start to close in on the Dahomey kingdom. Nawi’s journey from a wide-eyed teenager to a fierce warrior is the center of this story.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood captures 1820’s West Africa. It was a specific moment in history when African kingdoms were looking to expand while Portuguese, British, French, and Dutch slavers made their way onto the continent. Prince-Bythewood showed the brutality of chattel slavery while driving home how willing and ready the Agojie and other Dahomey warriors were to fight and die for their kingdom.
Thuso Mbedu gives a star-making performance as Nawi. Mbedu showcases the character as someone who can cosplay as an obedient soldier when necessary but deep down has a fiery sprit and enjoys doing things her own way. Every scene Mbedu has with Lashana Lynch is hilarious and gives this serious film the levity it needs. This feels like a breakout performance for the young actor. We should see more of her sooner than later.
Viola Davis gives another performance that cements why she is who she is. However, the MVP of the film is Lashana Lynch as Izogie. Lynch is a revelation in this film. Her performance in 2021’s No Time to Die and 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness gave us a glimpse of how good she could be in an action film. This performance leaves no doubt…put Lashana Lych in more action films. Give her a Salt, Atomic Blonde, Tomb Raider, or Edge of Tomorrow. She has all the skills to be a great action star.
The film also features Jimmy Odukoya as Oba. He’s easily the most hated character in the film from the second he steps on screen. Every hero’s story needs a good villain and Odukoya does an excellent job making the audience hate him.
Although the content is heavy, The Woman King is a refreshing film. It ventures outside the usual Hollywood stories about African kingdoms or the slave trade. It’s a story focused on empowerment, sisterhood, and family rather than the atrocities that took place.
The Woman King tries to capture some of the lost history of the 1820’s in a new way. The film is bookended by two really good action sequences. There story stumbles a bit in the second act as it tries to build towards the finale. There’s a romantic subplot and another subplot involving Nanisca that have payoffs towards the end but drag on a little too long. The film is being promoted as an action film, it’s not. It’s a drama with some action sequences. This isn’t 300 or some action packed war movie. But when there is action, it’s incredible to watch. Hopefully, if the film is successful it will lead to more films about history from a unique perspective.