The chilling truth behind Dahomey that the new Viola Davis movie, 'The Woman King', may not tell you

The criticism levelled against the movie was for watering down the horrors of the slave trade and the fact that these female warriors were in it too

The chilling truth behind Dahomey that the new Viola Davis movie, 'The Woman King', may not tell you
Viola Davis in a still from the film 'The Woman King' (Sony Pictures Entertainment/YouTube)
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Gina Prince-Bythewood's film ‘The Woman King’, which had been creating a lot of buzz lately, hit the US theaters on Friday, September 16. The action-packed movie, starring Viola Davis as General Nanisca, a fictionalized leader of an all-female fighter group known as Agojie, has got a lot of love after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.

However, as Slate magazine notes, the movie has toned down “the Truth of the Slave Trade”. There is no denying that “Dahomey had fierce female fighters,” but it also flourished while selling slaves. The kingdom was reportedly formed for war but not just for its expansion but also for slave trade. It has been said that under the Kingdom of Dahomey, which was one of the most powerful African states in the 18th and 19th centuries, slaves were either sold to the Europeans to get weapons or they were forced to slog in the royal plantations or at the palace.

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According to the Smithsonian, ‘The Woman King’ starts in the year 1823 when the Agojie successfully released slaves, who were captives of the Oyo Empire. However, the magazine went on to point out that “the kingdom’s involvement in the slave trade doesn’t align as neatly with the historical record,” before referring to historian Robin Law, who wrote in his journal, “From the mid-eighteenth century, however, Dahomey did seek to operate as a 'middleman' in the supply of slaves from the interior.”

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Dwandalyn Reece, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis, Shiela Atim, Cathy Shulman and Julius Tennon speak onstage during THE WOMAN KING Special Screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Dwandalyn Reece, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis, Shiela Atim, Cathy Shulman and Julius Tennon speak onstage during 'The woman King' Special Screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment)

It has been said that a point came in the reign of King Ghezo, ruler of Dahomey, during 1852 when he moved towards palm oil production for income but it failed to fetch big profits, and he returned to slave trade. Though Prince-Bythewood had told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re going to tell the truth. We’re not going to shy away from anything. But also we’re telling a part of the story which is about overcoming and fighting for what’s right.”

However, Lynne Ellsworth Larsen, an architectural historian who studies gender dynamics in Dahomey, told the Smithsonian that the film shows a “nice story” of the Agojie. She, however, added, “Do I think it’s historically accurate? I’m skeptical. These women are symbols of strength and of power. But they’re [also] complicit in a problematic system. They are still under the patriarchy of the king, and they are still players in the slave trade.”

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Viola Davis attends THE WOMAN KING Special Screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Viola Davis attends 'The woman King' Special Screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Meanwhile, Twitter has a lot to say about the movie too with author Jason Whitlock saying, “Good lord, I saw The Woman King this afternoon. The Black Panther was more realistic and historically accurate.” The New Yoker tweeted, “‘The Woman King,’ a new film starring Viola Davis, makes resistance to slavery its moral compass, then misrepresents a kingdom that trafficked tens of thousands as a vanguard in the struggle against it.”

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Gina Prince-Bythewood attends THE WOMAN KING Special Screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Gina Prince-Bythewood attends 'The Woman King' Special Screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 15, 2022 in Washington, DC (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Entertainment)

A user wrote, “The only conversation Black Americans should be having about “The Woman King” is how it pays tribute to and glorifies a slave raiding kingdom. How we are the descendants of those who were enslaved. How there’s no way in the world we should be supporting this film. #TheWomanKing.” Another one added, “Why would Black American Freedmen want to watch The Woman King when it glorifies African slave traders? Why would we celebrate our oppressors? This is such disrespect. It is sick.”

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This article contains remarks made on the Internet by individual people and organizations. MEAWW cannot confirm them independently and does not support claims or opinions being made online.

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