In the mid-1800’s, a West African kingdom was making history that, until recently, was relatively unknown in the West.
The Agojie, an army of the Dahomey tribe, were a fierce and powerful force comprised entirely of Black women. And their long untold story recently took to the big screen with 2022’s “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega.
“It was a solid movie,” said senior Trent Miller, a writer and director in Sacred Heart’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts (SCMA). “I don’t think it was completely historically accurate, but it was great for Black female empowerment––when they can see someone that looks like them, especially our younger generation. We don’t see a lot of that, especially with Black women in that kind of role.”
In terms of accuracy, Miller is referring to backlash “The Woman King” received for softening elements of the Agojie’s history, particularly their enslavement of other tribes.
“It’s history but we have to take license,” said Julius Tennon, a producer on the film and Viola Davis’ husband, in an interview with the LA Times. “If we told a history lesson, that would be a documentary. We didn’t want to shy away from the truth. The history is there. If people want to learn more, they can.”
The film was originally pitched to STX entertainment, who were only willing to supply a budget of $5 million to finance the film, “doubting it would have much reach at the box office,” according to the LA Times.
The film was eventually sold to Sony TriStar and it premiered in September of 2022, garnering praise from audiences and critics alike. The film earned a “fresh” critic score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 99% audience score, grossing nearly $100 million worldwide on a $50 million budget.
Speaking with the LA Times, Director Gina Prince-Bythewood cites the success of Marvel’s “Black Panther” as to why the film could get made. “It proved something that I think we all knew but that the industry didn’t understand, which is the power of us as an audience.”
Trendon Gardner, a junior business management major and actor at Sacred Heart, agreed noting that “Black Panther,” which earned $1.3 billion globally, did very well overseas.
“I feel like for a long time, Black actors and directors couldn’t get big box office pulls outside of the United States,” said Gardner. “The first ‘Black Panther’ is an example of ‘this can be done.’”
Gardner went on to explain the importance of “Black Panther,” in that it depicts an African nation that hadn’t been destroyed by colonization.
“The early days of film, Black people weren’t depicted in a positive light––they were slaves,” said Gardner. “So I think now it’s very important for diverse casts to be a part of every production. Film is a reflection of life. You’ve got to authentically depict the audience. That should be the norm. It’s not, really. It’s coming to that, but it’s not the norm yet.”
“We see a lot of films about Black struggle,” Miller said. “Films about slavery. And I think those films definitely have a place, but then, in a way, can also hold us back. ‘Ok, does our history just start with slavery? Does our history just start with suffering?’ We need more movies that don’t have to do with Black suffering and have to do with telling good stories involving Black people. Drama, comedy, action––whatever––that involve people of color. I would love to see some of the brighter parts of our history.”
“The Woman King” is now streaming on Netflix.