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'Stunning': Bell Ribeiro-Addy reviews 'The Woman King'

'Stunning': Bell Ribeiro-Addy reviews 'The Woman King'

Viola Davis plays General Nanisca in 'The Woman King' | Alamy

3 min read

Featuring a host of British talent, this epic historical blockbuster is a rare and refreshing tale of empowerment told from a Black woman’s perspective

It has been said that history is written by the victors. Indeed, “his”-story would literally have us believe that the victor is more often than not a man. A white man. So it was refreshing to see The Woman King, a story of sheroism, empowerment and sacrifice, from the perspective of women. Black women.

Black women are usually depicted and discussed as a collection of problems to be solved – be it discrimination, poverty or underrepresentation – so it was particularly beautiful to see these Black women the victors and very much their own solution. Fighting for each other and fighting for their people. 

This splashy Hollywood movie is complete with the expected stunning performances from the icon that is Viola Davis and some well-known South African actors. So often large-scale movie depictions of Black history are about, and acted out by, Americans. But this Black History Month we are treated to Black British women Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and Shaina West shining just as bright in key roles. We also had a host of British actors in John Boyega, Jordan Bolger and Hero Fiennes Tiffin. This is something we can all be proud of.

It was particularly beautiful to see these Black women the victors and very much their own solution

For a nation of our size, we have always punched well above our weight, largely due to the influence and wealth garnered from slavery and colonialism. The significance of British actors, who are the product of this, featuring so heavily in this particular film cannot be overlooked. It also says a lot about the talent of this under-represented group featuring so heavily in this blockbuster.

The film addresses a range of issues, from unity to ruthless ambition, and the rarely discussed fightback against the slave trade in Africa. Also, despite what some critics have said, it does depict African involvement in the slave trade. But even if it did not, so what? The movie doesn’t claim to be based on entirely factual events. It claims to be based on the Agojie, an all-female warrior group that did exist and did protect the former kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa. It never strays from that.

To me these criticisms display the level of misogynoir ever present in our society. For a film based on actual historical figures, that is openly fictional, it is sad to see responses that exclusively pick apart Black women’s heroism for negative historical context. The same criticism is rarely given to other films. It’s a shame anyone would see this film through that lens – and a sign that we need more films like it. So I hope many people get to see this film in all its greatness, and the parts that will make them laugh, cry – and definitely want to cheer. 

Bell Ribeiro-Addy is Labour MP for Streatham

"The Woman King"
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Broadcaster: General cinema release

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