On Monday, I reported that many fans were attacking the black female-led film “The Woman King” and while its defenders attempting to make it out to be an onslaught from racists and sexists, what isn’t being publicly talked about much is that a lot of the backlash is coming from the black community.
The reason for the anger is that the film centers around an all-female group of warriors called the “Agojie” who fought for the “Dahomey” kingdom in the early 1800s. According to the film, the Dahomey were on the front lines of pushing colonialist white people out of Africa who were out to enslave the African people. However, in real life, the Dahomey and their female warriors were actually known for raiding African villages, brutally torturing and killing those who couldn’t be used, and selling others they captured to slave traders.
This had many people, including the black community, angry that Hollywood was glorifying the very people we all agreed were the bad guys.
According to lead actress Viola Davis, a lot is on the line and if this film doesn’t see success then there will never be another black female-led movie in Hollywood again. This is, of course, sensationalist nonsense used to both scare and guilt people into seeing the film, but these supposed “stakes” are now causing Davis to turn around and defend the accusations leveled at the movie directly.
According to Variety, Davis and her husband Julius Tennon said that the movie was “edutainment” and that they had to take liberties with historical accuracy in order to make the movie.
“We entered the story where the kingdom was in flux, at a crossroads,” said Davis. “They were looking to find some way to keep their civilization and kingdom alive. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were decimated. Most of the story is fictionalized. It has to be.”
Tennon took it further.
“We are now what we call “edu-tainment.” It’s history but we have to take license,” he said. “We have to entertain people. If we just told a history lesson, which we very well could have, that would be a documentary.”
Right off the bat, you can probably see the massive issues in their defenses.
For one, fictionalizing stories is pretty typical for Hollywood, but even when the changes are great the story more or less tries to stay the same. It’s what made the story worth telling in the first place. A solid example of this is Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” which portrays the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. While functionalization did indeed happen, many of the general story beats were kept on target. Characters remained who they were in essence and the historical context was largely kept intact.
This is not the case in “The Woman King” which injects heaping doses of message-first movie-making into the film and takes a very important defining trait about the kingdom it’s talking about and tosses it for modernity’s sake. The rules of social justice filmmaking are absolute. An African kingdom with female warriors cannot be considered villainous by modern standards.
In short, the movie is lying and it’s lying about one of the worst possible things it can do in order to deliver a girl-power movie with black people as the sole good guys. If slavery is one of the worst things that ever happened to black people in their history, then conveniently turning a blind eye to it isn’t going to win hearts.
To put this into perspective, let’s play one of my favorite games: “Swap it.”
What if I put together a movie called “The European King” and told the story about a guy named Adolf Hitler who just wanted to lead his people out from under the boot of an allied force that kept his country and people in poverty, and began fighting a war that would turn into a bloody conflict to allow his fellow Germans to flourish?
The amount of backlash this would receive would be deserved. Hitler was, of course, one of the bloodiest dictators in world history and committed atrocities against the Jewish people that would echo for generations.
While Hitler’s destruction of human lives far outpaced that of the Dahomey, the comparisons are there to be made. The makers of “The Woman King” would have done far better to have just made a movie with a fictional African kingdom, but they wanted that “based on a true story” tag on their film because rewriting history to give their ideology historical backing was worth its weight in gold.
I guess they just counted on people being stupid or willing to look the other way. Sadly for them, they got neither.