The Woman King Parent Guide
The script isn't perfect but it's good enough to stitch together the solid character performances by the talented cast.
Parent Movie Review
The West African nation of Dahomey is ruled by a powerful young king, Ghezo (John Boyega), who maintains a precarious position with the help of an elite force of women warriors, the Agojie. Leading the Agojie is General Nanisca (Viola Davis), and she must protect her people from the Oyo Empire, a local power which trades horses and weapons with the Portuguese in return for captives to be sold as slaves. Desperately outnumbered by the enemy, Nanisca will need the help of her lieutenants, Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim), and a promising young recruit, Nawi (Thuso Mbedu). They will all have to be strong, strike hard, and think fast if there is to be any hope for her nation.
I can’t comment in too much depth about the film’s historical accuracy, primarily because I just don’t know all that much about 19th century West Africa. A cursory Wikipedia search will tell you that the kingdom of Dahomey was real (in the region of modern-day Benin), and that they did have an elite force of female warriors called the Agojie. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that this tale takes pretty heavy dramatic license, but it’s a fun watch all the same. I would love to see more films about the colonization of Africa from the perspective of different African kingdoms, not only because it’s a fascinating and under-explored viewpoint, but because I think we (particularly the global North) remain embarrassingly ignorant not only about African stories and cultures, but also about the impact European colonialism had on the continent.
The script isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to stitch together the parts of the film that really work: the solid character performances and the dramatic fight scenes. Obviously, Viola Davis is phenomenal, and Thuso Mbedu is remarkable in her film debut, but the standout for me was Lashana Lynch. I honestly could have sat through an entire movie about her character, because she was so fun to watch. Then there’s the fight scenes: The choreography is riveting, but the camera doesn’t seem to know how to work around it. There are strange cuts and angles that make the action difficult to follow, which is a real shame because it looks like the actors and stunt team put in a ton of work only to see its impact reduced by poor cinematograhy.
Now, while I suspect that The Woman King might not be a particularly reliable teaching tool, I think it is a great jumping-off point for historical education. The strong visual style and exciting action are sure to grab potential students – but only older ones. While the film avoids any profanity, and features only brief drinking, there’s rather a lot of violence. As you might expect, the process of fighting for sovereignty against neighboring tribes and their colonial backers involves copious bloodshed. There are also brief and non-graphic depictions of rape, and several scenes of dialogue discussing the same. These are discussed in quite vague terms, and certainly grounded in historical fact, unpleasant though it may be. So while this would be a truly terrible choice for younger viewers, I think it’s an exciting and compelling film for teens and adults alike.Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Starring Viola Davis, John Boyega, Hero Fiennes Tiffin. Running time: 126 minutes. Theatrical release September 16, 2022. Updated September 15, 2022
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The Woman King
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Woman King rated PG-13? The Woman King is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing material, thematic content, brief language and partial nudity
Violence: People are cut, stabbed, and shot. There is little blood or visible injury. A person’s neck is broken. A man is drowned. Individuals are hurt when they push through a tangle of thorns. People are burned and killed in explosions. Severed heads are seen.
Sexual Content: There are brief, non-graphic depictions of rape shown in a flashback. There are other references to rape in dialogue without explicit detail.
Alcohol / Drug Use: One character is briefly seen drinking in moderation, and background villains are seen drunk.
Page last updated September 15, 2022
The Woman King Parents' Guide
How are the Dahomey complicit in slavery? How is their approach different than that of their enemies, the Oyo? How do the Portuguese take advantage of local conflicts? How were slaves brought from Africa to Europe, the Caribbean, and America? What brutalities are associated with the Middle Passage? How long were enslaved people shipped this way? What changed? When was slavery abolished where you live?
If you’re interested in the historical accuracy of the movie, try this link:
History vs Hollywood: The Woman King
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For a more historically accurate and literary approach to the effect of European contact on West Africa, try Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. If you’re interested in other African stories and novels by African authors, try Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah, No Sweetness Here by Ama Ata Aidoo, Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, or Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
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There are very few films about pre-colonial Africa. Some films which depict the long-term impacts of colonialism on modern Africa include Hotel Rwanda, Half a Yellow Sun, Blood Diamond, Captain Phillips, The Last King of Scotland, and Cry Freedom. Films about what slavery looked like on the other end of the Middle Passage include Amistad, Twelve Years a Slave, Harriet, The Birth of a Nation, and Lincoln.