THE WOMAN KING – Review by Susan Granger

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One of the many benefits of inclusion is the ability to learn about historical events that have never before been chronicled on the big screen.

Background: During the 19th century, the militaristic African kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) was known for seizing men, women and children from neighboring tribes, establishing a reputation as a major supplier of slaves, trading them for goods like gunpowder, tobacco and alcohol. But then the Agojie, Dahomey’s women warriors, convinced their ruler to trade palm oil instead of captives.

Set in 1823, this story follows Nawi (Thuso Mbebu), a rebellious Dahomey teenager who refuses an arranged marriage; infuriated, her father forces her to join warrior force known as the Agojie.

(Historical fact: from the 1600s to 1904, there was an imposing, all-female regiment, the Agojie. Recalling Greek mythology, Europeans who encountered them called them Amazons.)

Commanded by ferocious General Nanisca (Viola Davis), the Agojie were at war with the Oyo Empire that was determined to destroy the reign of King Ghezo (John Boyega). Under General Nanisca’s strategic leadership, Nawi and other young recruits endure rigorous hand-to-hand training, twirling ropes and using weapons that resemble heavy, curved machetes while crawling over prickly acacia trees.

Fiercely determined Nawi not only proves herself in battle but also manages to upset the General’s usual equilibrium by stubbornly questioning tribal traditions and holding clandestine meetings with Malik (Jordan Bolger), a Portuguese explorer with Dahomey roots.

Working from a jumbled, often overly melodramatic script by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens, director Gina Prince-Blythewood (The Old Guard) delivers a rousing, action-packed adventure, reminiscent of spectacles like Gladiator and Braveheart with the fresh, contemporary diversity of Black Panther.

Credit cinematographer Polly Morgan, production designer Akin McKenzie and costumer Gersha Phillips for creating a meticulously detailed West African world.

Yet the drama is singularly propelled by Oscar-winner Viola Davis, who – after arduous weightlifting and martial arts training – embodies the ruthless, yet protective General with multi-layered intensity.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Woman King is a sumptuous 7, now playing in theaters.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.