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TIFF 2022 Review: The Woman King – “Visceral and brutal”

Protecting the African Kingdom of Dahomey is an all-female military regiment led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis).

 At one time Southern Benin was known as the African Kingdom of Dahomey which prospered from the slave trade and was protected by an elite group of warriors consisting of women.  The Oyo Empire seeks to annex the country led by a fierce general who has a dark past with the leader of the Agojie that is gradually revealed in flashbacks.  Brought into this world is new recruit Nawi who is defiant and in need of discipline.

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One has to wonder if the Agojie were Marvel Comic’s inspiration for the Dora Milaje which defends the fictional African nation of Wakanda.  It is a wonderful case where history is more interesting than fiction.  Contradictions are everywhere allowing for rich narrative potential.  The female warriors take a vow of celibacy and devote themselves to their king who has multiple wives and domestic abuse is accepted outside of the palace walls.  Then there is also the case of profiting from the slave trade with Europe which in truth is handled with a blunt blade.  The character of Nawi serves as the guide for the audience, thereby enabling exposition to be woven into the story.

If you looking for female action heroes, filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood has expanded upon what she was able to achieve with The Old Guard in a way that would make Kathryn Bigelow proud.  The hand-to-hand combat is visceral and brutal without being gory.  While the premise is fresh, the politicking and training antics are generic and the connection that binds two principal characters feels contrived.  No fault can be found in the acting and that in itself makes for an enjoyable cinematic experience.

The 47th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8-18, 2022, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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