For years now, Viola Davis has been a screen powerhouse – an Oscar-winning titan whose performances in the likes of Fences, Widows, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom have made her one of the most revered actors around. Now she’s stepping up to bring her “magnum opus” to the screen both as star and producer – get ready for The Woman King, an action-packed historical epic about the Agojie, or Dahomey Amazons, an all-female Black military force who existed in West Africa in the 1800s. Their story is one Davis has long wanted to tell – and with director Gina Prince-Bythewood on board they’re doing just that, with Davis starring as Agojie General Nanisca.
Presenting this story of Black women warriors is not only offering cinemagoers a slice of untold history, but is a statement of intent to tell celebrate a group in society who are far too often marginalised or rendered invisible. “This movie is my response to that,” Davis tells Empire in the new House Of The Dragon issue. “This movie is not even my respectful response to that. It is an illustration of the insurmountable beauty, strength, vulnerability, femininity, and absolute power of the dark-skinned Black woman. It’s our way of redefining who we are. And I believe from the first moment you enter this movie, you will see that in a very beautiful way.”
Taking on the role of Nanisca – who leads warriors including Lashana Lynch’s Lieutenant Izogie, Sheila Atim’s Lieutenant Amenza and Thuso Mbedu’s new recruit Nawi – was something that required considerable strength from Davis, and not just physically. “I think it’s very hard to train a group of young women to suck up their vulnerability in order to fight,” she explains. “To dig deep and find that warrior spirit that understands you have to fight for something bigger than yourself – and that it may cost you your life. That was difficult for me.” But for all that the Agojie are a formidable fighting force, The Woman King is just as much about depicting their roundedness as people. “We wanted to show these women as whole women,” says Prince-Bythewood. “Their vulnerability was as important as their fierceness, and they had an incredible sisterhood.” Get ready for a historical war movie unlike any you’ve seen before.
Read Empire’s full The Woman King feature in the upcoming House Of The Dragon issue – on sale Thursday 4 August and available to pre-order online here. The Woman King comes to UK cinemas from 4 October.