“The Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood, actress Viola Davis, and the rest of the historical epic’s star-studded cast conquered the red carpet on Friday before premiering their fact-based blockbuster to the Toronto International Film Festival.
Due in theaters September 16, actress Maria Bello’s first screenwriting credit tells the action-packed saga of the Agojie: an all-female unit of warriors who protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century.
“People need to see women warriors,” Davis told IndieWire at the premiere. “In this day and age, in this culture where women are under attack, where our choices, our bodies, everything that we are: We are second-class citizens. I would love for women to tap into that warrior spirit, to know that they have the power to change the narrative. ”
Davis plays the steely Agojie general Nanisca in “The Woman King.” The four-time Oscar nominee underwent a mind-blowing physical transformation for the starring role, maintaining an intense training regimen that incorporated real weapons for months ahead of shooting in South Africa.
“These women were recruited between the ages of 8 and 14 because they were considered the unwanted,” Davis explained. “They were considered not pretty enough to be the wife — unruly. And they were sold to the kingdom as Agojie warriors. They could not have children or get married. They could not have sex. And if they denied that role, they would be killed. And yet, they made it work. They took their job and their assignment seriously. They fought for their kingdom and they shifted the world in terms of how people saw women and saw ‘unwanted’ women.”
Known previously for romances “Love & Basketball” and “Beyond the Lights,” Prince-Bythewood cut her action genre teeth by directing the Charlize Theron-led superhero flick “The Old Guard” for Netflix in 2020.
“I am very deliberate in the films that I make,” Prince-Bythewood said of her new feature. “I feel like there’s a through-line, but I also feel like all my work up until this point prepared me to tell this story in the right way.”
“The Woman King” boasts a cast full of some of the most exciting young Black actors working today, including Lashana Lynch as Izogie, a seasoned fighter; Thuso Mbedu as Nawi, a fiery Agojie in training; and John Boyega as Dahomey’s ruler King Ghezo. Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and more also appear.
“It’s incredibly important for the faces behind the camera telling the story to match the faces in front of the camera, and unfortunately in Hollywood that rarely happens,” said Prince-Bythewood. Boyega has long regarded the filmmaker and Davis among his most trusted allies in Hollywood.
“It’s one thing being told, ‘We’re allies and we’re going to work together,’” Boyega said. “It’s another thing getting a message saying, ‘Come in. Come do the work.’ For me, it was just a great opportunity to come in and work. I felt believed in. I felt trusted.”
Watch the trailer for “The Woman King” below:
Reporting by Vincent Perella.