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The history wars target Dahomey The slave-trading nation was not a feminist utopia

The Woman King/Sony Pictures


September 22, 2022   7 mins

The historical epic The Woman King, which has just opened at the US box office to an ecstatic reception, is a truly remarkable film. Set in 19th-century West Africa and starring Viola Davis and John Boyega, it’s a tale of soaring idealism and surging passion; of brutal violence and burning anger; of dreams made and broken, of myths and mysteries, of lies and betrayals, of the vaulting ambitions and festering hypocrisies of a society in the throes of a profound cultural revolution. I’m talking about America, of course, not Africa. All this is before the film has even started.

I’ll come to all the controversies in a moment. But on one level, the story behind The Woman King is actually pretty simple. As its producer, the former Hollywood actress Maria Bello, has explained, she came up with the idea a few years ago after visiting the West African republic of Benin. There she had learned about a regiment of immensely fierce female warriors called the Agojie, who fought for the Kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th and 19th centuries. Entirely predictably, European travellers, missionaries and slave-traders called them “Amazons” — and since few of us can resist a story about terrifying statuesque Amazons, Bello was immediately struck by their cinematic potential. And with Marvel’s Black Panther having proved that there’s an enormous international audience for stories with sword-wielding black heroes, Sony executives agreed with her. So far, so uncomplicated.

What of the plot? Again, not very complicated. Historical epics usually tend to be pretty melodramatic, with impossibly admirable heroes and fiendishly cruel villains, and The Woman King is no exception. To cut a two-and-a-quarter-hour story mercifully short, we are in Dahomey in the 1820s. King Ghezo, played by John Boyega, is basically a decent fellow, at least by the standards of warrior kings in turbulent times. He depends on Viola Davis and her regiment of Amazons, not least against his neighbours, the Oyo, whose murderous, rapacious leader is in league with Portuguese slavers.

There are various familial goings-on of the “Luke, I am your father” quality, but we don’t really need to get into them now. Does one apparently orphaned character turn to be the daughter of another? I’m not saying. Anyway, in an entirely unpredictable development, some of the goodies are taken prisoner. Equally unpredictably, the king is reluctant to stake everything on a risky rescue mission. So in a twist that nobody could possibly have imagined, Viola Davis defies orders and leads an expedition to save them anyway. (You may think you’ve seen this before, but you haven’t, because it wasn’t set in Africa when you did see it before, so this time it’s completely different.) So what happens? Well, I don’t want to spoil it. Are they all slaughtered where they stand? Does the film end on a startlingly low note? Or do the goodies win the day? You’ll have to see it yourself to find out.

The producers claim, as they always do, that The Woman King is “based on true events”. And in fairness, they’re not entirely wrong. There certainly was a kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century: proud, independent, fiercely aggressive — and that’s putting it mildly. The historian Stanley B. Alpern, author of the definitive English-language history of the Agojie, calls it a state “dedicated to warfare and slave-raiding…with the king controlling and regimenting practically every aspect of social life”. One of those kings was indeed called Ghezo. And the Agojie definitely existed, too. As an excellent essay for the Smithsonian magazine explains, they were probably founded around the turn of the 18th century, and boasted some 6,000 female warriors who “raided villages under cover of darkness, took captives and slashed off resisters’ heads to return to their king as trophies of war”.

So were they as intimidating as the film suggests? Even more intimidating, actually. Forbidden from sleeping with men, the Agojie were recruited when young and forced to undergo the kind of military training that would turn most of us into conscientious objectors. One British traveller described how they were forced to scramble across dense thickets of acacia thorns, without anything to protect their feet from bleeding.

Other tests were designed to desensitise them to the horrors of combat. Every year, according to the Smithsonian, “new recruits of both sexes were required to mount a platform 16 feet high, pick up baskets containing bound and gagged prisoners of war, and hurl them over the parapet to a baying mob below”. And in perhaps the most horribly memorable detail, a French officer called Jean Bayol watched as a teenage recruit called Nanisca, “who had not yet killed anyone”, was brought before a captured young man whose hands were bound. According to Bayol, she “swung her sword three times with both hands, then calmly cut the last flesh that attached the head to the trunk. … She then squeezed the blood off her weapon and swallowed it.”

Nice. It was this Nanisca, by the way, who seems to have inspired the name of Viola Davis’s character. She ended up her days fighting the French, cutting the head off an artillery officer before being shot down in her turn. It was what she would have wanted. Of course plenty of historical films romanticise their terrifyingly violent heroes, as anybody who has seen Gladiator or 300 will attest. Such is the nature of storytelling. The problem for The Woman King, though, is that Dahomey wasn’t just a violent society; it was a violent slave-trading society. Hence the tsunami of controversy.

Although we’re always been told that slavery is a terribly difficult and complicated subject, the history behind all this is actually pretty straightforward. Slave-trading was enormously important, if not essential, to the kingdom of Dahomey. As the Brazilian historian Ana Lucia Araujo has pointed out, Dahomey’s expansion was exactly contemporary with the heyday of the Atlantic slave trade. In particular, Dahomey seized and controlled the port of Ouidah, one of the most important hubs in the entire network. From here, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a million African captives were forcibly embarked on ships for the New World.

And although this was a story in which European slave-traders played a leading role, the women warriors of Dahomey were hardly innocent. Quite the reverse. As Araujo notes, The Woman King opens with a scene in which the Adojie attack a neighbouring village, killing the men but chivalrously sparing the women. This is pure fiction, though. In reality, she writes, “the soldiers of the Dahomean army (both women and men) would take the healthy, younger villagers as prisoners and walk them to Dahomey’s capital, Abomey”. Here some would become local slaves, others butchered in human sacrifices. But “most would be transported to the coast, where they would be sold, and board slave ships sailing to the Americas, especially Brazil”.

This isn’t the only distortion of the truth. In the film, King Ghezo is persuaded to end Dahomey’s reliance on European slave-traders and embrace palm-oil production instead. But this is nonsense. Indeed, to his neighbours, the idea that he and his Amazon warriors were reforming liberators would have seemed downright obscene. In reality, Ghezo was as brutal and self-interested as any European imperialist. When he seized the throne in 1818, one of his first acts was to punish his family rivals by selling them into slavery. And for much of his reign he actively resisted pressure from Europe to end the trade in human beings, since by the 1830s and 1840s the British were vigorously trying to stamp it out, even blockading his coastline with Royal Navy ships.

Does all this matter? Maybe not. To repeat: all historical films turn fact into fiction. If you go to Hollywood for your history, that’s your problem, not theirs. Addressing her critics in Variety, Viola Davis insisted that a movie is just, well, a movie. “If we just told a history lesson, which we very well could have, that would be a documentary,” she said bluntly. “Unfortunately, people wouldn’t be in the theaters.” As for John Boyega, he fell back on the kind of impenetrable gibberish for which actors have long been admired across the world. “Art can live in a moral or immoral space and could sometimes just be about shining a light on human nature, history, and the reality of that conflict,” he said gnomically. “So, for me, including that just shows that there is a way in which we can embrace stories that accept the fact that humanity is not perfect, while also being entertaining and something you can learn from.”

What does that mean? I suspect we will never know.

But because it’s Africa and it’s slavery, some people don’t see this as a trivial matter at all. A month ago the New York Times’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, mastermind of the crazy “1619 Project” to rewrite all American history around the theme of slavery, issued an ominous warning that she was looking forward to seeing “how a movie that seems to glorify the all-female military unit of the Dahomey deals with the fact that this kingdom derived its wealth from capturing Africans for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade”. The New Yorker, poring over the film’s many distortions, condemned it as not merely “muddled” and “disingenuous” but a “cynical distortion of history”.

And on Twitter, the usual suspects have been out in force, pitchforks at the ready. In a way it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on; merely to enter the lists is to expose yourself to charges of heresy. So when Ana Lucia Araujo, expert on the slave trade at Howard University, ventured online to discuss a book about another African warrior queen from Angola, and made the mistake of using the word “deported” to describe the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic — well, that was the end of her. “The absolute caucasity of this person!” thundered one of her critics — himself, judging by his picture, distinctly Caucasian. Academics, eh? “What an absolute clown show!” read one reply. Well, you said it.

At heart, then, the story of The Woman King isn’t really a story about Dahomey in the 19th century, but one about the wildly hysterical racial politics of America in the 21st. I haven’t even got into the fact that the actress Lupita Nyong’o, who was originally supposed to be in the film, went to West Africa, made a documentary about the slave trade, broke down in tears when she discovered the Agojies’ involvement in slavery — and then pulled out of the film. Nor do I have time to get into the unbridled joy of the American Right at the spectacle of so many Hollywood liberals and academic nutcases tearing one another to shreds about a film about slavery. “Few of the governments extinguished by European colonialism,” exulted one writer in the National Review, “so richly deserved to be destroyed as Dahomey’s”. I bet he wouldn’t dare say that to John Boyega, though.

Am I bothered by the film’s distortion of history, then? Well, perhaps a little. Films do matter. Given its enduring legacy in former slave societies such as the United States and Brazil, it would have been much better to tell the story of slavery in a careful, nuanced way, instead of reducing it to a cartoonish, wildly distorted, risibly woke melodrama of heroes and villains. And if the filmmakers had had the courage to tell the true story of Dahomey — a story in which bold, independent African women were sometimes just as cruel and exploitative as the most vicious Portuguese sea-captains — then it might have encouraged their viewers to move beyond the infantile goodies-and-baddies view of imperial history that’s become so common today.

All the same, I’m not going to get too exercised about it. Shrieking and shouting about Hollywood films is never a good look. They come and they go, and most ordinary viewers are far too sensible to take them seriously. Let the lunatics rage on Twitter. The rest of us know it’s only a movie.


Dominic Sandbrook is an author, historian and UnHerd columnist. His latest book is: Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982

dcsandbrook

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R Wright
RW
R Wright
1 year ago

The irony is I have been waiting for years for an interesting, historically accurate film depicting pre-colonial Africa (a subject I have always been interested in) and I would have been the first in line to watch this movie. Alas, I’m a white Englishman so very little about this propaganda piece designed to massage the egos of culturally insecure African-Americans appeals to me or people like me. At least movies like Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda only had to distort history a bit while remaining interesting. This is just insane revisionism.

Alex 0
A
Alex 0
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

I would recommend the 1980s series Shaka Zulu which I very much enjoyed when it was repeated on British TV a few years ago. Not sure if it was entirely historically accurate but didn’t seem like propaganda on behalf of anyone or anything in particular, and it was certainly entertaining.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

While looking up Dahomey, I ran into the book “Travels in Western Africa, in 1845 & 1846” by John Duncan (the original source of the ‘running through thorns’ anecdote). Worth reading if you’re interested in the pre-colonial African kingdom and it’s relationship with European traders with the Portuguese buying slaves to take to Brazil, and the Royal Navy warships stopping them. Link here: https://books.google.com/books?id=MvMxAQAAMAAJ

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Interestingly the film has been attacked by some black commentators as being an attack on black masculinity as the males in the film are depicted as week, irresolute, and dependent on the women for guidance. It was regarded as matriarchal propaganda rather than pro-black propaganda.

The problem is that while Hollywood’s distortions of WW2 to big up the US involvement is culturally harmless the distortions here feed into a toxic narrative that slavery was executed exclusively by wicked white men rather than the truth that slavery was endemic to Africa and often involved human sacrifice and the Dahomey Amazons were a ruthless bunch of slave raiders and were in fact no match in practice for outnumbered European troops when it came to battle.

I think we would be rightly offended at a film that depicted German stormtroopers as the saviours of Jewish orphans from wicked bands of French partisans particularly if Germans had been fed the idea that the Germans were the good guys for a generation ( which, of course, they have not).

John Ramsden
JR
John Ramsden
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

> .. the males in the film are depicted as week, irresolute, and dependent on the women for guidance.

That will sound all too familiar to anyone who has watched almost any recent American film – The female characters are typically brisk, dominant leaders, if not outright super-heroes, who have to contend with, and often defend and rescue, hopeless male nincompoops!

I realise older Hollywood films generally had patronising male John Wayne type leads, in every sense of the word, and women were usually in one way or another subservient. But do film makers these days really have to swing so far to the opposite extreme?

Last edited 1 year ago by John Ramsden
Too Loose Low Trek
TL
Too Loose Low Trek
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Well, there is Burton and Taylor in Cleopatra.

Nell Clover
NC
Nell Clover
1 year ago

Gladiator places a fictional leading character in a real world with real supporting characters. The key appeal of the movie is the truth of that world lending credibility to the fictional plot and intensifying our emotions – that is why the story is set in the Roman world and not on Planet Zog. Both the world and the supporting characters are as ugly as they were in reality.

The Woman King also places a fictional leading character in a real world with real supporting characters. The key appeal of the movie is the truth of that world lending credibility to the fictional plot and intensifying our emotions – that is why the story is set in the Dahomey world and not on Planet Zog. Yet both the world and the supporting characters have had their fundamental nature fictionalised as much as the leading character. Credibility has been hijacked, not loaned. That is what makes it dishonest and makes the writers’ motives suspect.

Last edited 1 year ago by Nell Clover
Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Planet Zog?

You are not very up on your conspiracy theories, ZOG = Zionist Occupation Government in conspiracy speak

”Zionist Occupation Government conspiracy theory
The Zionist occupation government, Zionist occupational government or Zionist-occupied government, sometimes also referred to as the Jewish occupational government, is an antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming Jews secretly control the governments of Western states”

I think you are confusing your already very confused analyst of this atrocious movie with extraneous weirdness, and not even noticing you are doing it.

My Review – twisted mess. (by just reading about it, the thought of seeing it makes me sick; sadistic violence is not fun to me, I have seen too much IRL.)

But then I find almost all Netflix and Prime and MSM output to be pretty much sick, twisted, Satan inspired garbage, so an a biased critic.

Ian Stewart
IS
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

And I thought Planet Zog was from an old comic in the forties!
https://www.comics.org/issue/1158015/

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Whereas I have no problem in placing a fictional character within a real world setting, I do object to real events and characters within that setting being changed. For example, in Gladiator Commodus did not die in the way portrayed and there is no evidence that he had a sexual liaison with his sister, in fact he was probably gay.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
1 year ago

Is the reality that much different?

Commodus served as a gladiator and was killed by a professional fighter. Yes, his actual death was in private in a bathhouse and not in public but does that change anything but the dramatic effect?

Whether he was probably gay or probably didn’t have a sexual liason is a matter of probability, not fact, and doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of Commodus – the movie uses that to underline the fact that his behaviour towards his sister was – to modern eyes – a tad cruel and megalomaniacal.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

It was a political assassination, though.

Laurence Target
Laurence Target
1 year ago

Gay? How anachronistic!

Too Loose Low Trek
Too Loose Low Trek
1 year ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Which is to say, then, that The Woman King is really set on Planet Zog, having no historical significance, but filled with anticipatory hysteria from all directions and persuasions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Too Loose Low Trek
Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

“Based on true events” we are told. But would Hollywood make a film about heroic white British naval officers and seamen suppressing the cruel slave traders of Africa? I think not although nearer the truth of the 1830s. Or perhaps the life of Efunroye Tinubu, the aristocratic female Yoruba slave trader to whom a statue remains unmolested in Nigeria.

Charlie Corn
CC
Charlie Corn
1 year ago

Excellent stuff as ever. Although I’m a little disappointed not to have seen a reference to the great adventurer Flashman, who also met King Ghezo in Dahomey (Flash for Freedom!).

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie Corn

Yes, I was thinking of George MacDonald Fraser as well. The funniest thing is that “Flash for Freedom!” contains a lot of historically valid, carefully researched material – certainly more than the film under discussion, by the sound of things…

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie Corn

I think DS will have had to physically restrain himself from putting one in.

Dennis Lewis
DL
Dennis Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie Corn

No mention of Bruce Chatwin’s novelisation of this period in “The Viceroy of Ouidah” or the French historian Pierre Verger’s magisterial “Flux et reflux de la traite des négres entre le golfe de Bénin et Bahia.” 

M. Jamieson
MJ
M. Jamieson
1 year ago

It reminds me a bit of the historical fancies in Gladiator, which didn’t just involve making brutal people into heroes, but imagined a history where Marcus Aurelius wanted to make Rome into some sort of democracy.
Silly as all heck but beautifully silly and a great, exciting, emotionally moving film.
I imagine this film would be the same, except it is a little hard to take the constant rhetoric about the evils of the colonial Europeans and the importance of being accurate about it, then see a film like this which seems to deliberately obscure the role of the African slave trading kingdoms be presented as if such things don’t really matter.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

At heart, then, the story of The Woman King isn’t really a story about Dahomey in the 19th century, but one about the wildly hysterical racial politics of America in the 21st.
One of the first things I was taught about reading historical documents is that any secondary source (that is commentary of the events that took place) tell you more about the time that they were written than the events of the past. Just as modern historians will (rightly) point out that 19th century historians were writing from the perspective of imperial Europe 21st century historians are often writing from the perspective of Woke US/UK. Unfortunately they fail to recognise the latter fact.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago

Yes they are narcissistic enough to believe that all people who came before them were trapped by history, but that they are uniquely unencumbered by it themselves, such that their views represent Objective truth and objective morality and that it is both fitting and necessary that they judge all simpletons that came before them.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

No mention of the Annual Customs of Dahomey, I expect. For those unaware of this “celebration” it involved massive human sacrifice. Questions were asked in Parliament, but as it was not a British colony nothing could be done about it.
https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1860-08-17/debates/8d2802d3-53ab-424b-b421-80f10fb481f9/HumanSacrificesAtDahomey

Last edited 1 year ago by Linda Hutchinson
Ian S
US
Ian S
1 year ago

The excerpt you provide should be required reading for anyone pontificating about British involvement in the slave trade.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
1 year ago

Linda, the typo here could be misleading to a casual reader. Could you correct ‘was on’ to ‘was not’?

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

I don’t think Dahomey was ever a British colony. I think you will find it was French.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Thank-you – done.

Saul D
SD
Saul D
1 year ago

Uptick. Goes with the John Duncan book I mentioned.

Daniel Britten
DB
Daniel Britten
1 year ago

Thank you for posting. Fascinating!

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 year ago

A similar thing happened in my daughter’s school. She was given a list of “badass girls from history” and told to do a project about one of them. She and her friend were leaning towards Sayyida al Hurra, the “Pirate Queen” from Spain. The materials she got from school were full of spunky Sayyida standing up to those nasty Christians. So I gently pointed the daughter to some other online resources chronicling how Sayyida – along with Hayreddin Barbarossa – started the Barbary slave trade, which enslaved over 1 million people over its existence. Common sense returned and the daughter did a project on Amelia Earhart or Marie Curie or somesuch instead.

Last edited 1 year ago by Lennon Ó Náraigh
Alphonse Pfarti
AP
Alphonse Pfarti
1 year ago

Obviously this would have terrible consequences in the current climate, but did the idea of a puff piece focussing on her slave trading prowess and praising her business acumen cross your mind? Something like: Sayidda possessed a great talent for her vocation. With nearly a million white Europeans, many from modern day Britain and Ireland, captured in daring raids and sold into slavery, she amassed great wealth and influence, etc., etc.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alphonse Pfarti
Laine Andrews
Laine Andrews
1 year ago

My CANADIAN niece in Grade 8 was assigned Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” to report on and swallowed every word in it. She bought her as the accomplished woman her teacher sold her as instead of someone who along with her half white husband took the Affirmative Action magic carpet ride to fame and riches starting with both gaining entrance to Ivy League schools for which they were not the best qualified except for skin color. Without that golden ticket they would have been nothing and nobody.

chris s
chris s
1 year ago

I suppose it’s a sign of the times, but nowhere in this article or the comments, or in fact the producers or stars of the film, do I see mention of the book “Barracoon” by Zora Neale Hurston. It is an interview with the last African slave alive, Cudjo Lewis (Kossola) who was captured by the Dahomian warriors and illegally brought to the United States aboard the last slave ship “Clotilda” in 1860. Though much of the interview concerns his life of freedom after being emancipated in 1865, Cudjo’s description of the raid on his village by the female warriors is terrifying. No, REALLY, terrifying. If you think you have the guts, you should read it. It’s reality directly from someone who experienced all phases of the slave trade – being captured in a raid, being warehoused in a barracoon, taking the middle passage, and being a slave in Alabama.
This leads to my objection of the film, in that it “conveniently” continues a tactic of the last 100 years by the NAACP and other alleged “civil rights” groups to suppress widespread knowledge of African participation in slavery, the European slave trade, and any other distasteful aspects of African “history”. “Barracoon” was not published until 2018, almost 100 years after Hurston spent 3 months interviewing Cudjo in 1927. The most public objection to the book at the time was that Hurston used “dialetic” to convey how Cudjo actually spoke (e.g. “How come you astee me ain’ we had no God back dere in Afficky?”). In reality the strongest objection, from the NAACP and others, was that it informed people about African participation in the slave trade which they believed would harm their efforts to obtain equal rights for African Americans and end Jim Crow and segregation.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this film appears to align with the 1619 project and other current efforts to alter reality to foment hatred and division in the pursuit of financial gain.

hayden eastwood
HE
hayden eastwood
1 year ago
Reply to  chris s

Thank you I have just purchased it.

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago
Reply to  chris s

I think you’re misreading the motives of the two white Hollywood actresses behind this film. This was clearly an attempt to center #GIRLBOSS warriors, and the fact that the warriors were BIPOC was just icing on the cake for the two intersectional feminists.
The Agojie’s history as slave raiders didn’t discourage them from making the film only because there are virtually no other examples of women warriors in recent times, so they simply changed history to fit their vision of badass female fighters who were also morally pure.
I think this film and the controversy surrounding it will end up being a net positive for more people learning the true history of slavery. The film has prompted a lot of African Americans to attack it for celebrating one of the kingdoms that sold their ancestors into slavery, which is a good thing. However the fact that the characters discuss African kingdoms selling slaves at all is somewhat remarkable for a Hollywood film, and it’s definitely not something the 1619 crowd wants the young black audience that this film is targeting to spend time thinking about.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jay Chase
Miss Me
Miss Me
1 year ago
Reply to  Jay Chase

Hope you are right because an open discussion is long overdue.

Laine Andrews
LA
Laine Andrews
1 year ago
Reply to  Miss Me

Yes, former attorney general Eric Holder’s charge that Americans are AFRAID to discuss slavery and racism is laughably wrong. Only the 95% of blacks like him who vote Democrat and their white Dem enablers are afraid to discuss slavery in all its ramifications because of blacks’ key role in the supply chain. Black crime against blacks must be ignored, same as now in Chicago and all other black-run neighborhoods/ghettos, cities, states and the Dark Continent of Africa.
The 5% of blacks who are honest on this issue like Dr. Thomas Sowell have enlightened many of us but are reviled by black leaders for shattering the narrative of victimhood.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
1 year ago
Reply to  chris s

And there’s people that tell us not to read the comments’ section. Thank you!

Ian S
Ian S
1 year ago

CNN’s Don Lemon was schooled in one glorious minute by a calm British-Royalty voice on these matters: Would that the makers of ‘The Woman King’ had been with Don, listening to the same lesson.

Cathy Carron
CC
Cathy Carron
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian S

‘Saw that. CNN’s Lemon’s expression when told that it was black African tribal leaders who sourced the slaves & that thousands of British seaman died fighting to prevent slave ships from leaving Africa was priceless. It’s time for the National Shakedown in the USA to cease.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian S

Loved the rabbit in head-light stare of Mr. Lemon. But none of what she said was news for anyone with even the slightest inclination to check facts. Thinking back, I believe that it was the opening sequence to Roots which showed Europeans chasing down African men to capture and put under the yoke. Even at my very young age when I saw it I doubted this (think of all the diseases); but I didn’t really know how slaves were obtained so, I went to our local library and looked it up. Easy to do.
By the way, an interesting article about the British attempts at suppressing the slave trade, from the Hispanic American Historical Review published by Duke University:
https://read.dukeupress.edu/hahr/article/49/4/617/157301/The-Contraband-Slave-Trade-to-Brazil-1831-1845

Last edited 1 year ago by Linda Hutchinson
Laine Andrews
LA
Laine Andrews
1 year ago

Yes, Arab Muslim slave traders did not penetrate the Dark Continent in search of slaves during their centuries of slave trading and neither did whites who participated for a hiccup of historic time before deciding it was inhumane and fighting against it, alone of all races.
Africa held many dangers, not just tropical diseases but predatory wildlife and challenging topography as well. African blacks were always the critical first step in the supply chain, enslaving fellow blacks from defeated tribes and driving the surplus overland to the Arab Mideast with great loss of life as the buyers preferred mostly women or to the coast where slave ships awaited.

Laine Andrews
Laine Andrews
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian S

You’re assuming that the makers of the film would be swayed by facts. They have a message to impart and the square peg of history will be smashed into the round hole of whites solely responsible for slavery, no matter what the source material actually says.

hayden eastwood
HE
hayden eastwood
1 year ago

It’s not true that films are either movies or documentaries and that they cannot be both.

One need only watch the brilliantly told series Chernobyl, which was both historically accurate and grippingly dramatic. An artistic masterpiece and a compellingly faithful-to-events documentary of sorts.

Part of the problem with Hollywood is that it doesn’t have nuance in its DNA.

It always amazes me when I watch Scandinavian films that their characters are so complex and the the messages so understated, which always paradoxically makes them all the more powerful.

Contrast this to the last hollywood film I watched when the announcement of the central protagonists testicular cancer diagnosis was mixed to sad violin music.

I could almost see the writer scribbling in the column of his notebook: “note to self: onset of testicular cancer must be underpinned by sad music so audience knows cancer tragic”.

Last edited 1 year ago by hayden eastwood
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I once had a discussion with a musician about film music, as I often find it irritating, and I will always remember a comment that he made – they have to have the music, and it has to be obviuos because they fear that you will not know what to feel otherwise.

Greta Hirschman
GH
Greta Hirschman
1 year ago

It is certainly one of the many films based on true facts in which history is completely altered. Sacred books include plenty of stories in which defeats are narrated as heroic victories. Even films portray handsome British pirates attacking evil Spanish or French captains. Henry VIII is a handsome young man in love with beautiful six-fingered Anne Boleyn – not that he married her for political reasons, and Queen Elizabeth was infatuated with a handsome Walter Raleigh, who was busy ransacking Portuguese and Spanish ships as Somali pirates do nowadays. The new politically correctness includes blacks and Muslim slave traders portrayed as wise, brave feminists and anti-imperialists freedom fighters. Karl Polanyi in Dahomey and the Slave Trade describes how European explorers received slaves from African slave traders as gifts even if they initially did not want them, gold and ivory being much easier to handle.Dahomey certainly had half of its administration made of women, and slave raiding and warfare were fundamental activities. It is worth noting that female genital mutilation, a native African torture, is conducted by women. Therefore, women can play a fundamental role in perpetuating torture, child marriage, slavery, and other cruel practices against women and children. The Khomeinists and other religious movements that promote child marriage and polygyny rely on a wide group of female supporters. The saddest part is that in the name of progressiveness, the opposite values are promoted: violence, manipulated history, racial and religious hate. Real women’s rights supporters are forgotten or ignored, and non-European slave traders are pop heroes.

Ian Stewart
IS
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

This is the same John Boyega who, when describing his romantic preferences, stated he “only does black”.
Now glorifying a black king who fought the British to preserve slavery.

Jut plug me back into the Matrix.

Paul Nathanson
PN
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

“All the same, I’m not going to get too exercised about it. Shrieking and shouting about Hollywood films is never a good look. They come and they go, and most ordinary viewers are far too sensible to take them seriously.”
Okay, don’t be upset about one example of cinematic propaganda. Trouble is, this movie is by no means unusual. It follows a didactic pattern that will become more common, and therefore less noticeable, due to the ascendancy of wokism. I suggest that a steady diet of similar movies (along with their equivalents in other mass-mediated productions) will eventually have the intended effects on even “sensible” viewers.

Laine Andrews
Laine Andrews
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

There’s an entire sub-genre of “slavery porn” movies such as “Twelve years a slave”, “Amistad”, “Django Unchained” and many more, always portraying blacks as noble and whites as vicious. “The Woman King” is just another addition and will not be the last.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 year ago

Shrieking and shouting about Hollywood films is never a good look. They come and they go, and most ordinary viewers are far too sensible to take them seriously”
This reminds me of the Mel Gibson film about William Wallace. The ScotsNats are still taking that abortion of a film very seriously indeed.

Brendan O'Leary
BO
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  William Shaw

At the Scottish release, the SNP were standing outside afterwards, leafleting cinemagoers.

Richard Ross
RR
Richard Ross
1 year ago

Enjoyable, well written review; thank you!
“They come and they go…” – it’s true, but when they go, they leave an impression on the public mind that is more difficult to combat than a straightforward, bare-faced lie, since it doesn’t exist anywhere specifically, but hangs like a bad smell all over the place.

R S Foster
R S Foster
1 year ago

…I do hope some litigous African/Americans with a West African genotype are getting up a class-action against Maria Bello/John Boyega/Viola Davis for the mental distress caused to them by this gross mis-representation of the people who enslaved them as somehow decent and heroic…as opposed to the brutal and exploitative Imperialists they were…for many, many centuries…
…until we British finally dealt with them in 1897…in the expedition which seized the Benin Bronzes to defray the costs of putting an end to their slave-trading activities.
As an aside, the bronze to make the Bronzes was bought from the Portugese for slaves…and as we marched on their capital we found young women and girls staked out on the road, disembowelled alive and left to die in terrible pain…to cast a spell, or frighten us away…didn’t work..!
Now that would make a good action movie about how the slave-trade actually worked, and who really put a stop to it…but I’m not holding my breathe!

Last edited 1 year ago by R S Foster
Michael Coleman
MC
Michael Coleman
1 year ago

Does all this matter? Maybe not. To repeat: all historical films turn fact into fiction. If you go to Hollywood for your history, that’s your problem, not theirs.”
Beyond myopic and naïve. The majority of people in the US who are the target audience probably can’t name the 1st 3 Presidents. This is their history.
This is NOT just a movie

Nicolas Jouan
NJ
Nicolas Jouan
1 year ago

This movie will need a lot of hypocrisy and cynicism from ‘anti-racist’ libs in order to be successful.
I therefore predict it will be a great hit.

Jonathan Oldbuck
Jonathan Oldbuck
1 year ago

Just watch Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde instead. It’s a stunning film and one which I expect will last much longer than this Hollywood dross.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jonathan Oldbuck
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

Thanks for the link to the documentary by Lupita Nyong’o, which looks interesting. Streamed by Channel 4 to my surprise.

Nicholas Taylor
NT
Nicholas Taylor
1 year ago

Shouldn’t there have been an equal mix of white and black, male and female, straight and gay actors playing the parts of the Dahomean warriors? I jest of course.

Laine Andrews
Laine Andrews
1 year ago

We all know blacks are cast to play white roles in white stories written by white authors whereas the reverse is impossible. It’s one-way cultural appropriation with white fictional characters turned black like Little Orphan Annie, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and soon The Little Mermaid and James Bond. But when they plunk blacks into powdered wigs and silks and satins in Regency England as in Bridgerton or worse into historic roles as in Hamilton, that’s gross.

Last edited 1 year ago by Laine Andrews
tom j
tom j
1 year ago

I remember Sathnam Sanghera saying it was a good thing that the young people are learning their history from Instagram and Movies, so I guess he’ll be pleased anyway.

Brendan O'Leary
BO
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  tom j

Maybe it is a good thing. Because they cant handle the truth!

Jeff Andrews
JA
Jeff Andrews
1 year ago

If there’s one empire that needs to go, it’s the American one. They’re driving me up the wall.
Anyway, I know Benin well having built a factory near Bohicon formerly the capital of Dahomey. I did the trip around these kings mud palace and they really did have a thing about skulls. The Kings throne is made of them, he used to watch the slave markets on it and behead the ones that he couldn’t sell. By the way, there’s still a king who lives in the Caribbean in luxury c/o the French and his families slaving fortune.
As for Brazil when the former President visited our project he had a Brazil team tracksuit on with the yellow shirt, he’s married to a de Souza the descendant of the original Portuguese slave trader.
I wish these liberals would stop whining about the past nobody there spends much time dwelling on it.
There’s not many books about Benin but I seem to recall Cobra Verde, unless that was the film. By the way, Ouidah is a beautiful fascinating place to visit, even La porte da non-retourn, also go during the world Voodoo festival unless you’re a squeamish liberal that is.

Jonathan Oldbuck
Jonathan Oldbuck
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Andrews

That was a film, based on a short novel by Bruce Chatwin.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

The Viceroy of Ouidah?

Samir Iker
SI
Samir Iker
1 year ago

Interestingly, both in Black Panther and this movie, the “heroic” and fictional black tribes depicted don’t seem keen on diversity and the insertion of minority races.

Laine Andrews
Laine Andrews
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

It’s also interesting that there is no black utopia Wakanda from the Black Panther anywhere on earth. Black-run areas actually deteriorate as in Rhodesia the bread basket of Africa turned into basket case Zimbabwe, unable to feed itself without white charity. No neighborhood improves when blacks replace whites.

Jorge Espinha
JE
Jorge Espinha
1 year ago

I’m Portuguese and we are a very small country, often forgotten. So it’s woth joy I read references about the only period in our history we were relevant. “We” aparently enslaved and transported 8 million human beings. But the idea that my ancestors could have captured these people is ludicrous. Imagine a ragtag band of Europeans armed with single fire muskets, venturing into the African jungles, and battling against African warriors that were more and in better shape and knew the terrain, and this discounting the many African diseases that killed whites like flies until the second half of the xx century. The good old Arabs had established the markets long before the Europeans arrived, and millions of Africans were taken to Arabia and surroundings, the pious Muslims castrated those slaves and that’s why you don’t see many blacks in Ryad. It’s funny that so many black Americans traded their “slave name” for a Muslim one. It only shows how dumb most identitarian movements are .

Ali W
AW
Ali W
1 year ago
Reply to  Jorge Espinha

It’s strange when you consider the implications of the slave trade according to “Roots” type story-telling.
So Africans were really that helpless and incapable of escaping captivity? They just accepted their enslavement an masse without a fight or widespread organization to resist?
Of course not, they came from nations and tribes where slavery was already prevalent and an accepted part of life. Had slavery not existed in those regions at the time, capturing slaves in those numbers would have been outright impossible. It’s easy to do horrible things to people if it’s commonplace (or if they believe it is).

CHARLES STANHOPE
CS
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Give me ‘ZULU’ any day.

Kat L
Kat L
1 year ago

On a related note, the best docudrama that I’ve ever seen about the pilgrims and native americans is called ‘saints and strangers’ it is interesting, dramatic and factual even down to the indians speaking their native language except for Squanto. Produced with distinction by National Geographic.

Max Price
MP
Max Price
1 year ago

Are the action scenes any good?

Richard Parker
RP
Richard Parker
1 year ago
Reply to  Max Price

I’m sure they will have plenty of money throw at the SFX budget – sounds as though they saved enough on research and screenplay.

Good Reason
GR
Good Reason
1 year ago

I was uneasy going in to the film, because I knew the real history of Ghezo. The film is good, however–just as a reimagination of what could have been if any had had the heart to turn away from the spoils of slavery in Dahomey. That’s the way to view it, and it should have a warning on it that it is just such a reimagination.

Shantazz Wannamaker
Shantazz Wannamaker
1 year ago

If you go to Hollywood for your history, that’s your problem, not theirs. – this is the money shot. If people need to know more they can use the supercomputer at the end of their wrists. The movie was well done and quite simply no one wants to see a a documentary at the box office. The African American Community wishes to not see 12 Years A Slave style movies. Sorry to those who want several centuries of history to be redramatized. Hollywood didn’t even want to make this movie. Not sure how much of a formula they would stray from in regard to something that was deemed not a box office draw. So BABY STEPS.