A Reel Life film section

Issue: 2022-Spring

Woman King, The (2022) movie review

Black Woman's Burden


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Movie poster, Woman King, The; (c) 2022 Sony Pictures All Rights Reserved, Festivale film review
Movie poster, Woman King, The (2022) (c) Sony Pictures; Festivale film review
Her reign begins.

White man's burden: the task, believed by white colonizers to be incumbent upon them, of imposing Western civilization on the black inhabitants of European colonies (OUP).

When it comes to falsehoods in the modern age, there are three kinds of lies: (news media) lies, damned (internet) lies, and film-making. You can quote me on that as long as you get my URL right.

And thus we come to BOTS (Based on a True Story). Whether through research laziness, a blythe disregard for the truth, or a determination to revise reality right out of human ken, modern writers in all fields, paid and amateur alike, are too often tempted to not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Add to this the new political correctness (an oxymoron) is rampant revisionism. Under the banner of renouncing the bad attitudes and behaviours of the past, we are flooded with stories, and real life acts, where people and organisations are just slathering white-out over history.

On the heels of Enola Holmes, Victorian Girl Detective and Jane Austen, Celebrity Writer and Superstar, comes a black-washing of African women's history.

Sheila Aim in The Woman King; Festivale film review;557x630
Sheila Aim in The Woman King. Photo By: Ilze Kitshoff. (c) 2021 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hollywood marketing: "The remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen."

In THE WOMAN KING version of reality black women escape rapey-marriages and slavery in the house of women (soldiers).

Inspired by their own brutal treatment as prisoners of war and as human currency at the hands of black men, these women have cinematic battles underscored by important music, bond, and arrive at final triumphant moments.

It is an inconvenient truth that slavery is not a recent development, nor was it a white invention. All cultures seem to have practised slavery under various names. Martin Luther famously was pro-human bondage, peasants being assets of their lords (see text box).

Martin Luther wrote: those peasants and miserable wretches allow themselves to be led astray ... they have deliberately and sacrilegiously abandoned their obedience, and in addition have dared to oppose their lords, they have thereby forfeited body and soul, as perfidious, perjured, lying, disobedient wretches and scoundrels (he continues) ... whosoever can, should smite, strangle; and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man. (Against the Murdering and Robbing Bands of the Peasants (1525))

THE WOMAN KING shows fathers selling their daughters into marriage, or just gifting them to the local king. The local kings exchanged their subjects and captives for stuff. And from there the colonial merchants traded their human cattle around the world. Many a revered forefather is now revealed a slave trader, a slave owner, or a complacent onlooker (Christopher Columbus, 17 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention owned ... slaves. Of the first 12 U.S. presidents, eight were slave owners).

Once we start to impose contemporary moral values on history, the distortions are inevitable. To imagine they are justified is a matter for a filmmaker's conscience or the studio marketing department. - John McDonald (Financial Review)

And so to the film. Dana Stevens (script and story), Maria Bello (story) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (director) have tried to create a sweeping saga of women warriors taking breaks from bloody fighting to share compassionate bonding moments.

The Woman King movie still;  Festivale film review;800x533

(First row L-R) Lashana Lynch, Viola Davis,Shelia Atim (Second row L-R )Sisipho Mbopa , Lone Motsomi, Chioma Umeala Photo By: Ilze Kitshoff (c) 2021 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The story begins very G.I.Jane with a young woman having a kick-assery makeover. There's a melodramatic subplot (no spoilers, but easy to guess) and a strained attempt at a romance.

Despite all the attempts to throw every possible offense against women into the story, it fails to resonate. Or perhaps it is exactly because of that.

Viola Davis in The Woman King; Festivale film review;800x521

Viola Davis in The Woman King Photo By: Ilze Kitshoff (c) 2022 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Are we watching deftly-performed characterisation or a series of cliche set pieces?

The problem with so many woman-centric movies across all the genres is that Hollywood is still uncomfortable with the notion of women as actual human beings like, oh, say, men. The film-makers twist and turn and throw out awkward comments and scenes trying to walk the tightrope between women being fundamentally a slave race with delusions of value and the fact that actual women work actual jobs, earn actual money, and want to watch stories about actual women's lives. Well, with the occasional break to fantasise about being Lady Lara Croft, Helen Mirren's character in RED or one of Schwarznegger's co-stars who get to give him a good kicking (TOTAL RECALL, TRUE LIES and KINDERGARTEN COP to name just three).

By all means go along for the spectacle, but don't try to cite THE WOMAN KING in your arguments, because when it comes to facts, there's really no there there.

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Ali Kayn, photograph courtesy of the author

Ali Kayn is a freelance photojournalist and the founding editor of Festivale Online Magazine. Festivale was founded in October, 1996 to provide mentorship to developing writers, an outlet for talented fans, and a test bed for software and hardware under review. She lives in Melbourne, Victoria with a garden full of birds.

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Due for Australian release 27 Oct, 2022 (2022-10-27)
For credits and official site details, see below
Search Festivale for more work by the film-makers below.

See also:
12 Warrior Women In Movie History; Reality Bites (Based on a true story);

Just the facts:

Title: Woman King, The (2022)
Written by: Dana Stevens & Maria Bello
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Running time: 135 mins
Rating: M

The Players: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu,

Official website:
IMDb entry

For scheduled release dates, see the coming attractions section.

For more information about this movie, check out the internet movie database.
For the latest additions to Festivale, check out the change history section.