“The Woman King,” a new “historical action epic” starring Viola Davis, has been treated to laudatory reviews by the corporate press. It has been called “indelible and truly inspiring” in an ABC News review which features the subhead “Black women only — no white saviors need apply.” The Daily Beast labeled it “an absolute blast of a cinematic experience,” praising its “thick layers of history.”
Set in 1823 in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (modern Benin), the movie pits the innocent Dahomans, protected by the elite all-female Agojie army, against the evil Oyo Empire, which operates as a brutal arm of the European slave trade and wishes to force Dahomey into providing slaves. Dahomey is portrayed as a kingdom that only wishes for peace and autonomy, whose king, Ghezo (John Boyega), is looking for alternatives to the awful trade in which his tribe has been reluctantly forced to participate. Besides manfully defending the citizens and king of Dahomey, the Agojie, under their leader Nanisca (Davis), are also proponents of ending the slave trade and replacing it with the cultivation of palm oil.
Throughout the film, Dahomey is presented as a small, put-upon kingdom that only seeks harmony and desires the destruction of the evil trade in human bodies — led by greedy Europeans — which plagued the region. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, “The Woman King” is an “incredible true story” about “this amazing group of female soldiers who caused such an act of resistance that slavery paused for a time.”
The problem? Almost none of this is true.