Is the Woman King based on a true story? Boycott controversy explained as twitter debate ensues over portrayal of tribes
Viola Davis’ new film The Woman King recently found itself in the middle of a controversy as several people called out the portrayal of the Dahomey tribe in the movie.
The film has reportedly been inspired by real-life events and history surrounding the ancient West African Kingdom of Dahomey and its all-women military, the Agojie.
However, in the wake of the premiere of the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, critics called out the portrayal of the tribes and accused creators of whitewashing the harsh history of the slave trade associated with Dahomey.
Shortly after, the hashtag #BoycottWomanKing was launched online to criticize the alleged inaccurate representation of history onscreen. Dahomey was believed to be one of the tribes that reportedly sold African-American slaves to Europeans for several years until the British forced them to stop the trade in 1800s.
While the official trailer for The Woman King does not directly shed light on the history of the slave trade, the practice reportedly forms a key element of the film’s plot. In the trailer, Davis’ character, general Nanisca, is seen training the Agojie to fight against colonizers.
Reports suggest that in the film, Nanisca is also seen making numerous attempts to convince her king (played by John Boyega) to stop the practice of the slave trade.
The conflicting response to the film also sparked a debate online and left the internet divided.
Twitter divided over the reception of The Woman King
The Woman King has faced intense scrutiny ever since the release of the trailer for its portrayal of the Dahomey tribe and their practice of the slave trade. While some viewers immediately decided to boycott the film for allegedly downplaying history, others condemned the criticism.
Some social media users asked netizens to watch the film themselves before deciding to cancel the project, while others stood by their decision to boycott the movie for apparently failing to showcase the reality behind the slave trade:
Amid the sharp criticism, several people also came to defend the film and its story:
As conflicting reactions continued to pour in online, the director of The Woman King Gina Prince-Bythewood, told Indiewire that she would never attempt to win any fights on social media:
“I learned early on you cannot win an argument on Twitter. And I know all of that is going to go away once they see the film. There’s an assumption we’re not dealing with it and we are dealing with it. So I have to live in that confidence. They’re going to see the film and they’re going to see it.”
The film’s producer Cathy Schulman also opened up about the portrayal of slavery in the movie following the backlash. She told the publication:
“The fact is that slavery is driven by material gain. It offered up people on this continent an option to make money that should not have been offered up or forced upon them. And, once it was, it created all sorts of internal conflict, and we don’t hesitate in visiting that within the film.”
According to Deadline, The Woman King reportedly had an impressive $19 million opening with an A+ CinemaScore and a 95% positive rating on Comscore/PostTrak.
A look into the true story behind The Woman King
The Woman King, written by Dana Stevens and Maria Bello and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, is based on true events surrounding the Kingdom of Dahomey (present day Benin) and its fierce all-women regiment known as the Agojie.
The Kingdom of Dahomey reportedly existed between 1625 and 1894, and traces of the empire can be found in Benin on the coast between Nigeria and Togo, per BBC Travel.
John Boyega’s character King Ghezo is based on a historical figure of the same name who ruled between 1818 and 1858 in Dahomey. Meanwhile, protagonist Viola Davis’ character Nanisca is possibly fictional but also believed to be inspired by real-life individuals.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, a French naval officer named Jean Bayol said in December 1889 that he once met a teenage warrior named Nanisca who was recruited to a female army and once killed a prisoner in a gruesome manner.
The presence of women soldiers or Agojies can also be traced back to history. The army was previously mentioned in Sylvia Serbin’s book The Women Soldiers of Dahomey as well as Henrik Clarke’s essay Black Women of Antiquity.
The all-woman army of Dahomey is also believed to have served as an inspiration behind Dora Milaje in Marvel’s Black Panther.