The Woman King(Prime Video)
Rating: *** ½
The female hero, or the shero, never had it so good.In this hark-back to an era in Africa when women were sold and bought at the male population’s will, there was a tribe of women,the Agojie , warriors who protected the all-women army with a valour that challenged male dominance on both the battle field and in the domestic domain.
It’s a perfect recipe for a feminist statement. Providentially director Gina Prince-Bythewood steers the relentlessly interesting plot through a maze of underwritten action and emotion. While the canvas is epic and the female black actors are all brilliant, the director nonetheless reins in her enthusiasm to over-tell her story.Less is not more here. It is the only means to survive.
The inviolable Viola Davis leads the cast as the army general Nanisca.She is at once violent and vulnerable, eager to hurl her emotional territory into the universe and afraid that in doing so she may lose her muscle in a male-centric community. This is the 19th century, and no woman could dream of going to war against her bestially brutal brothers who indulged in heavy flesh trafficking of the women, as no one could stop them.
General Nanisca could. This is the story of one warrior woman against an ethos of sexism, although I doubt this world existed during the time when Nanisca opened fire on male domination.
While the story in itself is immensely illuminating , the director Gina Prince-Bythewood cordons off the battlecry to restrict her attention on Viola Davis’ General Nanisca and a young plucky recruit Nawi, played by a brilliant discovery Thuso Mbedu ,who turns out to be Nanisca’s daughter.
The mother-daughter sequences are profoundly sentimental, and yet remarkably free of treacly emotions. The power of the plot is the power to convey pain and kinship without keeling over with passionate anxiety. The two actors,Davis and Mbedu are a portrait of heroic vulnerability. In the battle with their male counterparts the two ladies are given no leverage for their gender. They get battered bruised and shown their place in the patriarchal hierarchy.
But here’s the thing: they drag themselves back to their feet, and continue fighting. The Woman King conveys the zest for life in an isolated female army.The narration never holds the ladies’ hands. Instead it hurls them into action entrusting them into a winning a war that is yet to be won so many centuries after .
The film is magnificently shot by Polly Morgan(who also The Quiet Place, here flipping the visual coin from an eerie silence to hard earned battlecry) and superbly sound-designed, each shot conveying the mystery of the jungles and the bloodcurdling sound of animals on the prowl.
The Woman King is both a voluptuous entertainer and a thoughtful meditation on the war that womanhood wages on inequality even as the world all around makes the gender issue a war lost even before the battle begins for women.
But there is always hope. The Woman Warrior ignites a feminine pride . It is winner for women way beyond the battles fought on screen.