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The Woman King •••••

Movie Greg Scott
The Woman King


The Woman King

The Woman King

Scott, Viola Davis is starring in the once and future Woman King.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Yes indeed. And she’s more than a Woman King. She’s a Woman Mentor, too. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to two women at different points in their lives. General Nanisca is the leader of the all female group of warriors who defend the Dahomean tribe from the Oyo Empire. It’s the 1800s and the Oyo are helping the European slave trade. And we meet young Nawi, a nineteen year-old woman who defied her father in a prearranged marriage. She’s been sent to Nanisca to join her army.

At first Nawi is defiant and insubordinate, incurring the wrath of Nanisca. But soon heroic traits start emerging and Nawi evolves into a terrific and trusted soldier. Things get complicated when Nawi encounters Malik, a man who is working with the Europeans but whose mother was African. The movie centers on Nawi’s coming-of-age adventures and the key role of the women warriors in protecting their people from enslavement.

Scott, this is a deceptively complex story. I believe we’re witness to a hero’s journey pattern we’ve never seen before: that of the parallel path hero’s journey. On the one hand we have Nanisca who is trying to save her village and convince her young king that they have a clear and present danger from the traders. She is on the path to tribal leadership. And on the other, we have Nawi who is a novice and wants to grow from an impetuous young woman into a true warrior.

These two paths intersect as we learn that Nawi is Nanisca’s lost daughter. This creates some very rich interpersonal challenges. I can’t think of another time we’ve seen this.

The story is extremely well-crafted. The direction, the dialog, the plotting – all are supremely executed. The fight scenes are realistic and complex. Viola Davis presents as a grizzled war-hardened general. Her performance is Oscar-worthy – as are all the other cinematic elements. This is a great film.

Greg, the topic of enslavement is a heart-wrenching one. This movie gives us a rare look at the social, political and economic underpinnings of the process of enslaving others. We are witness to the wide range of characters and cultures at play here. There are, of course, the Europeans who inexplicably felt entitled to abduct and enslave innocent human beings. Adding complexity to the mix are the Oyo people who collaborated with the Euros for their own economic and political gain in Africa. In this movie we are witness to great leadership and to great failures in leadership. We see the best and the very worst of humanity at play here.

And what makes all of this even more poignant is the disturbing fact that these horrific acts of enslavement still exist today. In fact, over 40 million people worldwide are still being enslaved, a number that is entirely unacceptable, and yet the barbaric practice continues unabated.

I’d say you’re right, Greg, about the two parallel hero’s journeys going on here. We’ve had hints of this before in movies involving mentors and mentees. But this was less about mentor and mentee than it is about two people on complex intersecting journeys. Viola Davis is a bit too old for the role but she has such commanding screen presence as the consummate thespian that she can pull it off.

Thuso Mbedu is extraordinary in the role of Nawi. This is a great coming-of-age story, and all parents of difficult teenage children should take note and take heart – Nawi is a giant pain-in-the-ass teen, and stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe her. She is brimming with moxy, courage, and defiance. These qualities may drive her elders crazy but they are the very ingredients of heroism.

Scott, we’ve talked about how difficult it is to create a hero’s journey for an already experienced hero. We saw it done well in Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick. But that was a work of fiction. Here, Nanisca’s journey was from accomplished General to “The Woman King” – the female who sits on equal footing with the male king. It’s a compelling difference from Joseph Campbell’s own Monomyth where the hero starts out as a novice and wants to grow to heroship.

Young Nawi is on the classic hero’s journey. In fact, her story reminded me of the 1970s TV show “Kung Fu.” In it a young Qui Chang Caine enters a monastery to be trained to become a Shaolin priest. Both characters must learn the martial arts of their tribe, overcome their impetuous natures, and lose a mentor whom they loved. This is the time-honored story of the orphan coming into their own.

I loved this movie and was pleasantly surprised at its depth of storytelling, the high quality in its artistic quality, and the complexity of a dual-path hero’s journey. I give The Woman King 5 out of  5 Reels and our two heroes on their separate but converging journey 5 Heroes out of 5.

Greg, you could even say that the personal journey of Malik and how he navigates his mixed ancestry is one of the more interesting storylines here. Jordan Bolger does a terrific job of portraying Malik as a man caught between two worlds, a man who grows in his moral consciousness.

I loved this film, too, Greg, and I concur that it deserves all 5 Reels and all 5 Hero points. I strongly suspect that Woman King will collect several Academy Awards, including recognition for Best Movie, Best Directing, and Best Screenplay.

Movie Greg Scott
The Woman King