Last week I wrote that critics were a little too eager to embrace the random-twist horror movie “Barbarian” because the release calendar was in a slump and there hadn’t been a good movie in a while. If those critics had just waited a week, they could have embraced “The Woman King,” an audience-pleasing historical epic with a chance to make some real money and maybe pick up a few awards. As it is, the film will still deservedly be seen as a creative and commercial success, but I’m disappointed that it won’t get more recognition for saving us from the August-September slog.
The film follows the Agojie, an army of female warriors that protect the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1820s. The women, led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis), dispatch slavers from the rival Oyo Empire who want to sell captured women to Europeans. Dahomean king Ghezo (John Boyega) also deals with selling slaves to the Europeans. Nanisca wishes he wouldn’t deal in slaves and instead trade something harmless like palm oil. She has his ear to a degree as a general, but she would have real influence if he were to give her the title of Woman King. Not a queen, to be clear, but a Woman King, a woman with kingly importance. But no woman has been given that title in decades. Nanisca would have to do something outstanding to earn it. Given that it’s the title of the movie, I’d say it’s likely that Nanisca will indeed do something outstanding.