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The Woman King

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More than Black Lives Matter shouting, The Woman King displays the dignity and heroism back when they were oppressed in the 18th and 19th centuries by Europeans and their own African countrymen, who want to sell them to the Europeans as slaves.

Battle-scarred Nanisca (Viola Davis) and her new recruit, Nawi (Thuso Mbdeu), are fierce warriors for The Kingdom of Doheny, Nanisca training young women and Nawi to defend from enemies. Because they train well, they are reminiscent of Wonder Woman’s troops, only that the Doheny’s are historically real even if this film is mostly fiction.

Besides the remarkable training involved in these women becoming fighting machines, the very personal conversations between Nanisca and Nawi make this a character-driven drama as well as a spectacle. The lessons Nawi learns, as well as the big reveal in act 3, make her a future fighting and psychological force similar to Nanisca.

The bonding among female forces is more remarkably stunning than that, say, shown with Michelle Yeoh’s in Crouching Tiger or Gail Godot’s in Wonder Woman. Like the feminist movement itself, films are bolder now in their depiction of female empowerment.

Don’t discount the importance of males in Woman King: John Boyega’s king has a steady and perceptive hand as he deflects the intrigues household female politics and promotes the warriors who deserve honor. His handling of the European slavers is a model of diplomacy.

Most of the Woman King history is fictionalized for the dramatic purposes of the film. Good drama it is despite the spectacular calisthenics and visual delights, and thanks to Gersha Phillips’ colorful costuming, Louisa V. Anthony’s beautiful black-hair compositions, and Akin McKenzies’s production design.

The Woman King makes you anticipate and appreciate the beauty of the Black Panther saga in the past and to come.

The Woman King

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood (Old Guard)

Screenplay: Dana Stevens (Fatherhood)

Cast: Viola Dais (Fences), Thuso Mbedu (JJC: Johnny Just Come)

Run Time: 2h 16m

Rating: PG-13

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com