Viola Davis has ascended to the next level of her craft in the exquisitely crafted historical action-epic The Woman King, which delivers what the Wonder Woman franchise should have—bloody Amazons kicking men’s asses without airbrushing. Based on the real-life African kingdom of Dahomey and its all-female warrior regiment (which inspired Black Panther’s Dora Milaje), an awesomely shredded Davis plays General Nanisca, a warrior who immediately recognizes the danger and scope of the growing transatlantic slave trade. Nanisca struggles to convince King Ghezo (a wonderfully cast John Boyega) to act before it’s too late.
Thuso Mbedu plays a spirited Nawi, a young recruit that struggles under the discipline and sacrifice that the life of a true fighter requires. Luckily for her, she finds a kindly big sister in the fearless Izogie, played by Lashana Lynch (MI6 in No Time to Die). As Nanisca’s tough facade begins to crack, she leans on her spiritual advisor and confidant Amenza, played by Sheila Atim, who channels both the immaculate bone structure and acting chops of the late Cicely Tyson.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) films through the lens of Blackness, highlighting the beauty, strength, and fierceness of Black people, unlike most stories about the slave trade that wallow in Black trauma and are filmed as education for white audiences. A well-crafted script (story by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens) delivers action, heart, and great storytelling set against the expansive vistas of the West African countryside, making The Woman King an instant classic. PG-13, 135 min.