In 2018, noted Black author Zora Neale Hurston’s last book, “Barracoon,” originally published in 1927, was re-published. It was an anthropological study of the last slave cargo illegally brought into the U.S.
As part of the story of that ship — as reported by Cudjo Lewis, one of the enslaved from that ship and at 95-years old when she interviewed him as the last known survivor from that slave vessel, the Clotilda — Hurston was told about the ‘Mino’ or “Agojie,” an all-female military unit which had fought against the French colonizers and against the Africans who helped capture other Africans for the slave trade.
In 2022, a just-released movie, “The Woman King,” starring none other than Viola Davis (in a much better role this time than her recently reviled portrayal of Michelle Obama), tells the story of that historical group of women warriors.
The movie’s director is Gina Prince-Bythewood, the director who brought us the very well received “Love and Basketball” a few years ago. The principal writer and the other producers are not Black, but they seemed to really get it, nonetheless. Julius Tennon, a very serious brother and actor, was also on the production team.
The movie is very well worth seeing, and introduces the public to the real-life group that was the role model for the Dora Milaje female warriors in the “Black Panther” movie franchise (whose next installment is also due out in the next few months).
The movie details the origins, relationships, trials and tribulations of that Black Amazon group, many of whose members are still remembered and discussed in heroic terms by the current population of West Africa’s Benin, the modern name of the territory of Dahomey.
The sex scenes are few, and unlike the “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Clash of Empires” standards regularly on display in DC and Marvel movies today, there is not a surfeit of bloodshed and horrific death scenes. This is a story of courage; necessity of invention; and an indomitable will not to be extinguished that is good to see in these troubling days.
Though receiving a very good introduction at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, in just coming out for public release, the movie has already generated some controversy. Some folk have carped about making so much of an all-female unit of butt-kickers, while basically ignoring the men except as heinous villains.
The other big thing so far is the criticism over lionizing King Ghezo of Dahomey, who is historically well-known for African slave-raiding and profiteering from enslaving his own people. Ghezo’s name even came up in the “Gone With The Wind” franchise, as Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler mentioned him as an important West African slave trader.
Ghezo is infamous for the quote (not in GWTW, but in the history books) “The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and wealth. Their songs celebrate their victories and the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery.” Why make him a hero in the movie, some have questioned.
But let’s let the public be the judge. Is this well-made movie one from which people can gain a great history lesson that will demonstrate deeper truths about how Africans were brought to this country and how they have continually fought for decency and recognition? Or, not.
Spend a little money or wait to watch it on Netflix. Either way, see it and make up your own mind.