The Woman King recently released to streaming after a respectable stint in theaters earning about $95 million domestically with an almost perfect audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Viola Davis in her leading role as Nanisca was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, British Academy of Film Awards, and the Critics Choice awards amongst other honors. She also received a People’s Choice Award nomination for the role which is a rare thing to accomplish when on the Award circuit (those normally go to big blockbuster parts only like Marvel films).
Despite these accolades, Viola Davis and the entire film was totally shut out of the Academy Awards. Was this deserved?
The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: The Woman King
Overall Rating: Great
The Woman King follows the story of General Nanisca and the all-female Agojie warriors who protected the Kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th century through the 19th century. The story is set in 1823 as the slave trade is intensifying and a new king is having to make decisions about the future of Dahomey including whether or not to participate in the sale of slaves and whether or not to install a Woman King as is the old tradition.
Based on a true story (conceived by none other than Coyote Ugly’s Maria Bello), The Woman King is a great film reminiscent of other character driven epics loosely based on truth like Bravehart or Mulan or the Netflix series The Last Kingdom. It is absolutely beautifully made, it is action packed from start to finish and while it has its cheesy moments, it has credible emotional anchoring and strong performances.
While its politics are a little hard to untangle from modern discourse and sensitivities, it is an overall strong film which, compared to the field of Oscar nominated films, definitely deserved nominations in several categories.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Layered and exciting
The Woman King is exciting. It’s a real adventure epic. It feels kind of like a Marvel movie but instead of heroes with superhuman strength the heroes are fantasticalized women warriors with legendary strength. It’s like the Amazons in Themyscira with Wonder Woman only some of the characters were once real people.
Not only are viewers treated to fight sequences of all shapes and sizes (it’s got one on ones, it’s got surprise attacks, it has explosions, it has swords, it has fists, it has guns, it has it all), they are delighted by a rich historical drama with the perfect blend of fictionalized emotional boundaries and connections and truth. The Kingdom of Dahomey almost seems mythical in how beautiful and mysterious it is to modern history. So rarely do storytellers tackle the truth of the majesty and wealth of the Kingdoms of Africa before the industrial revolution and political plague. With Viola Davis in the lead, the rest of the performers bring the whole thing completely to life.
Viewers will be gripped to the film for the entire duration and will be left wanting more of the story.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Beautiful and well performed
The most striking thing about The Woman King is how beautiful it is. The costumes are breathtaking. King Ghezo played by John Boyega (Star Wars) is decked out in the most gorgeous fabrics and garments on screen this year, period. The film outhits the similarly conceived Wakanda Forever in both production design and costume design and probably hair and makeup. Where Wakanda Forever created an imagined world, The Woman King celebrated the true world of Dahomey in 1820 and the surrounding, thriving, port cities of Africa. It was perfect in its artistic vision.
The performances were very strong. Viola Davis was at her actual best as an action hero (the woman’s range is infinite). For her to not be nominated for Best Actress but Ana De Armas to be nominated for Blonde is catastrophically bad judgment on behalf of the voting body of the Academy. Beyond Davis; Thuso Mbedo (relatively unknown until now) as Nawi, Sheila Atim (Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness) as Amenza, Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die) as Izogie and John Boyega as King Ghezo give exceptional and committed performances all with their own unique sense of character but with a well balanced sense of ensemble.
The story is pretty perfect for a good hero’s journey not unlike the legends of Olympians and fabled heroes of the west with their gangs. But Bello has some soft spots and there is some amount of cheesiness that the film would have benefitted from losing. There is perhaps just one too many lines about sisterhood and there is one key character arc that makes suspension of disbelief a bit difficult. Nothing destroys the film altogether. Just a bit of editing might have gone a long way to make the story absolutely perfect.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Tough to put a finger on
The politics of The Woman King are a bit difficult to describe. While there is nothing inherently right or left about the celebration and fictionalization of a group of real female warriors nor is there inherently anything right or left about the realities of the slave trade in Africa in 1820 – when contextualized with modern politics, especially issues like “critical race theory” or the less discussed “feminist lens,” it is impossible to totally separate liberal narratives from the underlying storytelling. There is something not quite tangible but vaguely present which intends to separate people according to unchangeable characteristics of birth (gender and race) which is a goal unique to progressives and extremists. There is not a sense of shared history in the story.
That being said, it is stark and undeniable that the primarily liberal voting body of the Academy Awards chose to completely shut out this film from nominations and yet did choose to nominate for Best Picture – its highest honor – a film that is just rich white people sweating and barfing and having sex. Makes one think.
But the politics are only bothersome if viewers can’t let go of current affairs while watching.
If viewers relax and let go of current affairs, the story is just a hero epic about a group of warrior women that is well worth watching.
The Woman King is a wonderful hero epic that is one of the best pictures The Conservative Critic has reviewed this year. Definitely a major Oscar snub.