FILM REVIEW - THE WOMAN KING (Part 2)
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Jeridoo Universe reviews one of the top films coming out of the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this last week of September 12, 2022: The Woman King. We give you a “CliffNotes®”-styled concise review, consolidating and condensing over 20 film critic articles, so you can see what makes this film special and worthy of watching. In this part 2, we give an overview of the cinematography, music, costuming, and cast.
The Cinematography, Music & Design
Polly Morgan, the cinematographer, immerses viewers in radiant sunsets, breathtaking landscapes, and battles showcasing the ingenuity of these women fighting much larger male opponents with a variety of warfare, strategic moves, and weapons to overcome them. The scenes take place from dawn to dusk, with detailed views of the beauty, culture, religion, and wealth of the kingdom, creating a phenomenal viewing experience.
Babalwa Mtshiselwa (makeup and prosthetics), Gersha Phillips (costume design), and Louisa Anthony (hairstyling design) and their operation teams (including African artists) did a great job to put an authentic, beautiful and fresh styling to the film. One critic noted that careful attention was given to enhancing visually the nuances of the woman leader, Agojie, from fierce commanding warrior to in-command but vulnerable female leader, just by altering her hairstyles in scenes. Some critics hail Terence Blanchard’s thunder-rolling war score to be worthy of an Oscar® nomination.
These elements combined together make a beautiful, spirited, vibrant world for us to explore as viewers.
The cast ensembled represents all classes of Dahomey society, from working-class to middle-class to upper-class to royalty, hence able to form some resonance to different stations in life today, as well, among viewers. The humanity displayed defies stereotypes and shallowness. The actors play with raw emotion, virtuoso physical movement, and full expression. The character of each speaking actor adds an aspect to the storytelling.
Oscar ® winner American actress and producer, Viola Davis plays the rawly intense, but empathetic, self-conflicted General Nanisca, the bold warrior leading the Agojie, an all-female military unit. In an interview, she called this film her “magnum opus”, pushing herself to her emotional and physical limits with a nuanced use of her voice, face, and body. She got her Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress with Denzel Washington in the 2016 film, Fences. The actress is more recently known for her character Amanda Waller in the DC Extended Universe (Black Adam, The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker). Some of her other films include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (with the late Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther fame), Get On Up, and Lila & Eve.
In her first feature film debut, South African-born actress Thuso Mbedu plays headstrong Nawi, the rising Agojie warrior with a secret connection to Nanisca. Her prior work was in series, including The Underground Railroad, Saints & Sinners, and Generations: The Legacy. The actress presents the character with charisma and physically creates an enjoyable, unique fighting style.
A British actress of Jamaican descent, Lashana Lynch plays Izogie, the feisty, daring veteran warrior and second-in-command to General Nanisca. She is known more recently as Maria Rambeau in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse) as well as Matilda and the James Bond film, No Time to Die.
Ugandan-British actress, Sheila Atim, plays Amenza, the strong but caring warrior, the interpreter of dreams, and the best friend to General Nanisca. The actress is known for films and series including Bruised (Halle Berry’s directorial debut), The Underground Railroad, Doctor Strange & The Multiverse of Madness, as well as Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio. She also has performed in a number of Shakespeare productions at the Shakespeare’s Globe and the Bush Theatre.
A British actor and producer of Nigerian descent, John Boyega plays King Ghezo, the King of Dahomey. He is known for the sci-fi comedy film, Attack the Block and the Star Wars trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker).
American actress Jayme Lawson plays Shante, his opinionated trophy wife, who questions the radical influence Nanisca has on her husband. The actress is known for the films, Farewell Amor and the recently released film, The Batman.
English actor Hero Fiennes Tiffen plays Santo Ferreira, a Brazilian aristocrat and white slave trader who tries to convince King Ghezo to profit from the slave trade by direct sales to him. The actor is known for his work on the portfolio of films based on the novel franchise, After, by author Anna Todd.
A leading face in Nollywood, Nigerian actor Jimmy Odukoya plays the enemy Oyo Empire leader, Oba Ade. This is his Hollywood debut. He has been nominated for numerous acting awards and is known for his work in films, Mamba's Diamond, Team Six, The Bosslady and The Wait.
English actor Jordan Bolger plays the upper-class Malik, whose mother was from Dahomey and father from Portugal. Raised outside of Africa, he comes to see the ancestral home and culture of his mother for the first time.
Summary of The Film Critic Reviews
Critics have used keywords describing this film as “athletic”, “bombastic”, “breathtaking”, “creative”, “emotional”, “enduring”, “enrapturing”, “exciting”, “fast”, “female-empowering”, “informative”, “inspiring”, “invigorating”, “love of life, freedom, Black people and culture”, “lush”, “monumental”, “muscular”, “powerful”, “nuanced”, “radical”, “rich”, “rousing”, “spectacle”, “spirited”, “spiritually buoyant”, “stand-out”, “stirring”, “thrilling”, “visually resplendent”, “well-choreographed”, and “well-crafted”.
On the critical side, some have felt it was cluttered and uneven, bogged down by an extraneous romantic subplot between Nawi and a half-Dahomey/half-Portuguese slaver (Jordan Bolger) that seems accelerated and forced, others critiqued the “made-for-Disney” like PG-13 rating with tamer action sequences swords don’t connect and the wounds from being injured or killed look like bright red blots of ink rather than an injury from war. And then there is this controversy as noted before. African reviewers noted frustration that African viewers will not be able to identify and specific region where the accents can be located by using a Wakanda-style approach, which deprives it of some authenticity.
The Dahomey free a group of female captives and General Nanisca invites them to forsake marriage and motherhood to be trained in the warrior ways of the Agojie. They face an enemy in the Oyo Empire, who are deeply involved in the sale of captives to slave traders in exchange for arms. Nanisca has assembled a new group of women, including the young, headstrong Nawi, whom shares an important connection revealed during the course of the film. Together they fight neighboring tribes, the French and all who threaten to threaten their freedom and honor. But the King of Dahomey is seduced by a Brazilian slave trader that compromises the ideals of the Agojie and the General is faced with the dilemma of obedience to her King in supporting the slave trade.or paving a new path forward with determination and the women by her side.
In summary, this epic historically based film is primarily a story of the sisterhood, with bonds forged in the fires of celebration and ceremony, wounds and vulnerabilities, healing and strength. We were going to include a detailed plot and character analysis in this blog but have decided not to because we want each of you reading this to see your beautiful film and draw your own insights and conclusions. Comment below after you see the film. After its theatrical run, we will do a part 3 retrospective with a deep dive into the plot and character analysis.
James Kellogg is a contributing writer to the Jeridoo blog and is an actor, producer, writer and concept artist for independent films and television.
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