The Woman King - The Kingdom of Dahomey's women warriors and some sketchy history

Based on the trailer, I feel like this is one of those movies that general audiences may enjoy, but anyone who’s dived into the history of the Kingdom of Dahomey will be pretty grossed out by it. The Dahomey are the baddies. I’m not saying the French and British colonizers were good guys, (far from it) but the Dahomey were pretty awful. They actively and enthusiastically took slaves and participated in the Atlantic slave trade, and they conducted mass human sacrifice rituals. It’s a weird premise to paint them as the heroes of freedom.

Wow, very troubled subject for a film…will have to see how they manage this.

Here’s a very softball interview with the director that absolutely glosses over how much the Dahomey were enthusiastic slavers. Here’s the only bit that even enters the conversation:

The Woman King also plays as a frank portrait of African slavery. Were there challenges in matching the Hollywood grandeur with that blunt portrayal?

It was something I knew we needed to tell the truth about. Almost every society engaged in slavery in some respect, and the difference here, prior to Europeans coming — as in any other type of society, it was about prisoners of war. Never commerce — that’s what Europeans brought to it. But we also set this film specifically at the time where the kingdom was at a crossroads, and Ghezo was having to decide [whether to capture other Africans and sell them to European slavers].

Because it was literally — half the kingdom wanted to abolish their involvement, and the other half wanted to keep it, because it brought them wealth. So the Agojie and Nanisca represented that group that wanted to abolish it, and Ghezo had to make that decision. In America, certainly, [Black people are] taught that our existence in America begins with enslavement. We’re not taught that we came from so far beyond that. Having that knowledge going up can absolutely be a game-changer. So I’m hoping, foremost, you go and you’re entertained, and you have fun with the film, but you get to see yourself reflected in a way you never have, and change your mindset.

“Question: How awesome are you?”

I’m pretty sure that means that capitalism ruined slavery, or something.

Right? I’m sure slavery was okay until the Europeans came in and made it all about business. The thousands of people the Dahomey killed in mass sacrifices were cool with it as long as it wasn’t exploited commercially.

I think you’re both twisting her words.

Yeah. I heard another interview on NPR (turns out is is a Vox podcast? Didn’t know NPR was using stuff like that). First half is the director, second was a Princeton researcher that focuses on that kingdom. The latter mentioned that (not to justify it, mind you) the kingdom represented less than 5% of the slave trade, so hardly the epicenter of it. And yeah, they specifically set it at a time when the kingdom was at a crossroads about it, during which they stopped doing it.

Odd you don’t hear a lot of noise about slavery whenever there’s yet another Roman epic, considering all the slavery there. This whole argument against this movie is a sideshow.

I get the feeling this is basically hopping on the Black Panther train.

I think that’s because Roman epics are rarely about invaders coming to Rome, and then Rome grappling as fighters for freedom. Also, everyone knows Rome had slaves. Very few people (in the US at least) know about Dahomey and what they did as regular practices.

First question - have you seen this movie?

Nope. And I’ve very specifically been talking about the marketing.

If the movie shows Dahomey accurately, then great! The marketing would still be very weird.

Marketing is always weird, and often divorced from the director’s intentions. I’d reserve judgment until I’ve actually seen it (and I plan to). The interviews with the director I’ve heard point to it being less about ‘freedom’, and more that she wanted to make a movie about these real historical badass warrior women. She knew she needed to address the slavery question, and so they did, but that isn’t really the ‘point’ of it all.

I think a better example would be a movie about American freedom fighters against British rule. They might have even been at a crossroads about the issue! We’d definitely hear a lot of noise about slavery there.

To be charitable, we have enough movies like those that there’s room for critics to emerge. Maybe one day we’ll have the same here.

In the end it’s not a big deal. It’s just fun to poke at social norms in media.

If it’s a big enough of a success, we can expect a whole bunch of 300 like analysis.

That’s actually a much better analogy. I never saw The Patriot, for example. Did they ever broach the subject of the American slave trade during their fight for freedom?

I hope you’re correct. I kinda want to see the movie, but I’m just worried about the Hollywood treatment.

All you need to know is that it is Braveheart in different uniform.

British, english specifically, all sorts of evil, Gibson character good.

I liked Braveheart when i was 10, much less so even just 5 years later.

Just a warning, but the director specifically namedrops Braveheart, Gladiator, Mohicans and others as the inspiration for the type of movie she’s trying to make. She mentioned in the interview I linked above that one of the main characters in the conversation about slavery is an amalgamation of several historic people, for example. There’s things she’s leaning into with regards to historical accuracy, and things she’s glossing over Hollywood-style. And that’s ok. We mostly look the other way (or even celebrate it) when it’s a white-male-led piece doing it. I see no reason a mostly female and black production can’t have some of that fun, too.

All 3 were rollicking epic melee violence movies.

The first was a travesty from a historical accuracy point of view, and for no good reaspn either because IMHO the known, original story is arguably more interesting.

The 2nd wasn’t pretending to historical accuracy, and remains one of my favourite films.

The 3rd had that awesome scene/set of scenes where the british are ooutgunned and out ranged in their fort, surrender and then are set upon in the forests.

Her name dropping them isn’t a problem.

I actually welcome more films exploring African history. There are many stories to tell.

My concern is that a film like this will end up portraying and contributing to a cliché of history as opposed to any real discussion, much like how 300 was a parody in a way of the original story, and how it (300) has informed modern perceptions of Persia.

The difference here is that there isn’t a established corpus of mythology or history to counteract it, in the way there is regarding Greek history.