'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (2023)

This interview with the cast of “The Woman King” first ran in the Guild & Critics Awards / Documentaries issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

By any reasonable calculation, “The Woman King” was a risky movie to make. Set in 19th-century Africa, starring a huge cast of mainly Black women actors — many of them not widely known — it faced big questions about whether the movie would find its audience.

Incredibly, it did. Willed into existence by a team that included director Gina Prince-Bythewood and producers Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Mario Bello and Cathy Schulman, the release from Sony’s TriStar Pictures has made more than $90 million at the global box office since its September release. Critics have also embraced the film (as have audiences: It has a 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes), with the L.A. Times’ Justin Chang identifying the movie’s hat trick of taking “an old-fashioned template to deliver a floodtide of exhilarating new images.”

“The Woman King” is based on the true story of the kingdom of Dahomey (located in modern-day Benin), where a female cadre of warriors — the Agojie — protected the powerful state and its king. The film stars Davis as the general Nanisca; Thuso Mbedu as the neophyte warrior Nawi; Lashana Lynch as warrior Izogie; Sheila Atim as Amenza; and John Boyega as King Ghezo.TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman spoke to this remarkable cast at the Toronto Film Festival.

'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (1)

This film seems to be something very different than I’ve ever seen Hollywood produce before: a film about an African story of self-empowerment with an African cast, shot in Africa, led by women, a woman director, a woman lead producer. Viola, you spent many years getting this film to come to life. Can you tell us how you started it and why?

VIOLA DAVIS It started with Maria Bello. She took many trips to Africa. She does a lot of philanthropy work, but she thought of this story. She presented me with an award at the Skirball Center. And when she presented me with the award, she pitched the script to the audience. That was her introduction of me. And she ended it with, “Wouldn’t you want to see Viola as the Woman King, Nanisca?” And everybody just cheered. That’s where it started.

And from there it was the fight. I call that part of the journey “the fight.” I wish people could be a fly on the wall so they can understand the process of getting a film made: a lot of walking out of rooms, just cussing, just putting my hands up going, “Oh, my God, can you believe that happened? Can you believe we have to fight for this?” Fighting for everything. Fighting for actors, fighting for the director, fighting for the integrity of the project. Fighting to not shift and change the script or water it down to fit other scripts that had been made before that didn’t… I’ll just say that weren’t as Black.

(Video) The Cast of The Woman King Play MTV Yearbook | MTV Movies

By which you mean had more white characters, or had more…

DAVIS Well, it’s a longer conversation. Fighting for, I don’t know, hairstyles. Fighting for making sure that every actor in it was dark-skinned. The Agojie were dark-skinned women. Fighting for little things like that. Fighting for a proper budget because without the budget you cannot get certain things made. Fighting for directors—that was a big thing because the studio approves directors like the Christopher Nolans, the David Finchers, the Steven Spielbergs. They’re busy doing other things. They’re not going to direct “The Woman King.” And then fighting for other female directors who are names, (but) they’re busy doing other things too. And fighting for the directors who are names but are too frightened of it. People who never even read the script, frightened of telling a story of Black female empowerment.

Frightened because?

DAVIS (That) would be a better question for them. Because we are a mystery, I think, to a lot of people. And then to finally get it made, to finally have your feet on the soil of South Africa, was really close to a miracle. (Laughs)

'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (3)

Thuso, what was it like to be part of this project?

(Video) Viola Davis taps into action side in 'The Woman King' | Nightline

THUSU MBEDU It was absolutely amazing on every single level. I was able to train with Viola quite early in the process. We’re doing everything ourselves. It was hard, extremely hard. But beautiful, you know — it broke us in the way that it needed to, but also built us up.

John, you get to stand there and look very beautiful in your robes.

JOHN BOYEGA No fighting at all.

What was it like to be sort of the singular man surrounded by this army of women?

BOYEGA Well, it was like being at home. I’ve got two older sisters. Mom’s whole family is mostly women. So there was an element of that. But the difference with this was that there was something inspirational to watch. We weren’t just in an environment in which you compare, as a male or a female — they were working as hard as anybody. They transformed their bodies.

'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (4)

You said at the premiere that you felt that you had reached some kind of crisis in your own life as an actor. Can you talk about that?

(Video) If the Woman King had a TikTok😂 #womanking #dahomey #bustinmoves #cosplay #costumeparty #dancelife

BOYEGA I wouldn’t call it a crisis. If you are continuously building yourself and you are continuously looking in the mirror, it’s actually just a process of life that you should actually have a moment to sit down and go, “OK, what am I doing? What direction am I going in next?” And in that consideration and confusion, Gina’s letter came through and it had the vibe of a call to action. It wasn’t necessarily just about a career move. It was more about “Come and support, come and be on set with other artists.” And for me, it was like a reintroduction to why I fell in love with acting.

'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (5)

Were you surprised that a studio was getting behind a movie like this with this theme and this cast?

BOYEGA To a certain extent, but that doesn’t move me anymore. My question then goes, have you fully supported those that are in charge? Have you made sure that you’ve given them the best opportunity and the best resources to get it done? Are you going to market it? Are you going to push it? These are questions that we have continuously asked throughout the whole process until digital release.

'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (6)

Lashana and Sheila, what was this experience like for you?

LASHANA LYNCH Every time we get asked that question I just inhale really deeply because there’s so much to say. There’s so much ground that we were able to cover as actors, as people, as Black women. Even before being cast, I felt really happy that the industry was preparing for this shift. This is a big leap for someone who looks like me to be happy that a studio’s getting behind it and is putting together the most powerful cast who are able to be their most dedicated selves through a director who really cares about them, cares about their well-being in tackling such deep narratives as Black women. I felt like I was able to heal a little bit of myself, to heal from my ancestors onwards. It was a special, spiritual experience to me.

(Video) Woman King Smashes Box Office and Viola Responds to Critics

'The Woman King' Cast on 'Fight' to Make Their Blockbuster (7)

Sheila?

SHEILA ATIM I always try to pick roles in projects where I feel like there is something new about them, whether it’s the project itself or it’s something new for me on a personal level, something that I haven’t tackled before. Just hearing Lashana speak, I realize there were so many elements of this project that were new for me. Working with that many Black women at the same time, I’ve never ever had the opportunity to do that. Both in front of and behind of the camera, doing our own dancing — which was definitely something that I have not done on screen yet. The level of ambition that the project had to have — all of that in one project meant that I absolutely had to be a part of it.

But I think it really hit me while I was there and continues to hit me afterwards. Having seen the film now a couple of times, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. But with that comes huge challenges because, as Viola mentioned before, we are stepping into territory that can make people nervous. The industry is very risk-averse. And so to be able to go through all of that, come out of the other side and say, “We did it. We executed it,” is something that I’m so proud of.

Read more from the Guild & Critics Awards / Documentaries issue here.

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FAQs

Who was the Woman King based off of? ›

The Woman King is a 2022 American historical epic film about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries. Set in the 1820s, the film stars Viola Davis as a general who trains the next generation of warriors to fight their enemies.

What is the story of the Woman King? ›

Is Woman King disney? ›

Sony Pictures is exclusively releasing The Woman King in theaters and there is no official news about the movie's streaming release. However, Sony Pictures has a deal with Netflix and Disney, which allows these networks to stream all movies released theatrically by Sony between 2022 and 2026.

Who was the first girl King? ›

Kubaba is the first recorded female ruler in history. She was queen of Sumer, in what is now Iraq about 2,400 BC. Hatshepsut was ruler of Egypt. She was born about 1508 BC and she ruled Egypt from 1479 BC.

Is The Woman King based on Black Panther? ›

The Viola Davis-led film about the Agojie, the all-female African army that inspired the fictional Dora Milaje in Marvel's "Black Panther," centers on warriors tasked with protecting the people of Dahomey (modern-day Benin) and King Ghezo (played by John Boyega).

Was The Woman King a success? ›

The Hollywood movie The Woman King, released in mid-September, became an immediate box-office success. The triumphs of the Agoodjies, the women warriors of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey in today's Benin, west Africa, are as magnificent as the public had anticipated.

How much of The Woman King is true? ›

Are the Characters Based on Real People? While most of the basic historical framework is fairly accurate, many of the characters are not. The only one that is clearly based on a real person is King Ghezo. However, Ghezo is not the great leader and wise man the movie makes him out to be.

What is the criticism of The Woman King? ›

The Woman King also has its fair share of historical blunders. The film has faced criticism recently for uplifting the female warriors while downplaying the Dahomey tribe's involvement in the slave trade. A hashtag has even been created calling for the film's boycott. #BoycottWomanKing slave traders are not heroes.

How is woman king doing at the box office? ›

The film is purported to be an Oscar contender for Best Actress (Viola Davis), with some even saying it has a shot at Best Picture. Its fourth weekend gross is estimated to be at around $4.7 million. “The Woman King” now is the 41st highest grossing worldwide movie total of 2022. A total success.

Will the female king be on Netflix? ›

But fortunately, 'The Woman King' will eventually be available on Netflix, thanks to a deal struck between Sony and Netflix in 2022.

Where in South Africa is The Woman King being filmed? ›

In November 2021, the cast and crew of The Woman King, starring Viola Davis, descended on Cape Town to film.

How much did it cost to make The Woman King? ›

How much has the female king made? ›

The Woman King (2022)
Theatrical Performance
Domestic Box Office$67,004,000Details
International Box Office$27,059,386Details
Worldwide Box Office$94,063,386
Further financial details...

Is the girl King a true story? ›

Davis debuted that bold new persona in the first trailer for The Woman King, which lets viewers know that the film is “based on powerful true events,” and teases “the most exceptional female warriors to ever live.” So if you were wondering whether The Woman King was based on a true story, the answer is yes!

Who was the greatest female ruler in history? ›

The Four Most Powerful Ancient Female Rulers:
  • Hatshepsut.
  • Tawosret.
  • Cleopatra.
  • Boudica.
14 Aug 2019

Who were the 7 female pharaohs? ›

Cleopatra VII Philapator, Twosret, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Sobekneferu and MerNeith were among the few women of antiquity to reign during Egypt's long history.

What did the Virgin Queen look like? ›

Elizabethan beauty

Elizabeth was tall and striking, with pale skin and light red-gold hair. She exaggerated these features, particularly as she aged, and other women sought to emulate them.

Who is Black Panther Queen? ›

Queen Ramonda | Characters | Marvel.

Who is the Queen of Wakanda? ›

Queen Ramonda is the ruler of a secret and highly-technological African nation known as Wakanda. She is a supportive and diplomatic Queen to the Wakandans and their Royal Family, including their leader and powerful warrior known as the Black Panther.

Are the Dora Milaje real? ›

The fictional Dora Milaje, seen in this clip from Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, were based on real-life female warriors. The fictional, fearsome, and all-female Dora Milaje in the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever were inspired by a real group of African warriors: the Agojie.

Is The Woman King a hit or flop? ›

Viola Davis stars as the warrior leader in 'The Woman King. ' Critics and audiences showered the film with raves, leading to a 95% critics score on review site Rotten Tomatoes and a perfect A+ CinemaScore from ticket buyers.

How much did The Woman King gross so far? ›

The Gina Prince-Bythewood historical drama, starring Viola Davis, did at least 25 percent better than analysts had expected. As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month.

Will there be a woman King 2? ›

As of now, there are no plans in place for a second film, but Davis is "totally open" to the idea. Davis's husband, Julius Tennon, who also stars in the movie, told Variety, "Well, you know, it feels like we could [do a sequel]. We haven't had any discussions about it as of yet."

How many slaves did Dahomey sell? ›

In 1727, Dahomey conquered the Kingdom of Hueda, who lived along the coast, and took control of the port city of Ouidah, inaugurating its active participation in the Atlantic slave trade. Historians estimated that nearly one million enslaved Africans were put on ships to the Americas in Ouidah between 1659 and 1863.

What is Dahomey famous for? ›

Notable in the kingdom were significant artwork, an all-female military unit called the Dahomey Amazons by European observers, and the elaborate religious practices of Vodun. The growth of Dahomey coincided with the growth of the Atlantic slave trade, and it became known to Europeans as a major supplier of slaves.

Was there a woman king in Africa? ›

The Agojie were fierce women warriors in the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa. They were national heroes and symbols of female power, but also helped the rise of the 18th century slave trade. Their complicated legacy has been the subject of debate around the film "The Woman King."

Is The Woman King worth watching? ›

October 7, 2022 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review… But the main selling point of The Woman King is its performances, with Davis and John Boyega standing out as especially phenomenal in this film.

Is The Woman King revisionist? ›

More of a talky drama and less of an action extravaganza, "The Woman King" tells a revisionist, alternative history of the fierce Dahomey kingdom.

What is the biggest box office flop of all time? ›

  1. "Turning Red" (2022)
  2. "Mulan" (2020) ...
  3. "47 Ronin" (2013) ...
  4. "Mars Needs Moms" (2011) ...
  5. "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017) ...
  6. "Mortal Engines" (2018) ...
  7. "Cats" (2019) ...
  8. "Town and Country" (2001) ...
24 Oct 2022

Did the woman King do well at the box office? ›

“The Woman King” easily towered over box office charts because there weren't many other high-profile movies playing in theaters.

Who is the queen of box office? ›

Amalia Fuentes was the first recipient of the Box Office Queen award.
...
Box Office Entertainment Award for Box Office Queen
Currently held byMaine Mendoza, Jack Em Popoy (2019)
4 more rows

Can you watch The Woman King on Amazon Prime? ›

The Woman King, an action movie starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, and Lashana Lynch is available to stream now. Watch it on BOE TV (ATLANTA, GA), ROW8, Redbox., Prime Video or Vudu on your Roku device.

Did Carrie get removed from Netflix? ›

Now, Netflix is adding to my daily mourning by removing The Carrie Diaries from its platform come October (along with some other classic teen dramedies, like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants one and two).

Is the female king a peacock? ›

Watch Battlestar Galactica Season 3, Episode 14: The Woman King | Peacock.

Where is The Woman King being filmed near Pretoria? ›

The $50m action epic The Woman King, directed by African American Gina Prince-Bythewood and filmed in Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal — recounts the tale of the all-women regiment of Agojie warriors from the Dahomey kingdom in 1823.

Where is Eel Marsh House in The Woman in Black? ›

Cotterstock Hall Near Oundle Village, Northamptonshire

Exterior shots of the fictional Eel Marsh House were filmed in Northamptonshire's Cotterstock Hall, located near Oundle village. The film crew spent four days on-scene dressing up the exterior for the three-day shoot.

Where is blood and water filmed in South Africa? ›

Parts of the University of Cape Town made up the fictional Parkhurst College, such as Smuts Hall and Sarah Baartman Hall. Other filming locations included Cape Town City Hall, the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay, Sea Point promenade, the Atlantic Seaboard, Durbanville, and Llandudno.

Did The Woman King make a profit? ›

After earning an A+ CinemaScore, the film exceeded the initial expectations of about $15 million to $18 million; with Sony projecting the movie to hit $12 million.

Is The Woman King making money? ›

“The Woman King” earned $19 million in its opening weekend, slightly below my $25 million estimate from last weekend. With a reported $50 million budget, the film likely needs to clear $190 million worldwide to break even.

Did the kings man make money? ›

Even while being an inferior sequel (it spent much time undoing a major first-film plot turn), it still earned $100 million domestic and $400 million worldwide on a $104 million budget.

Is the girl King Lgbtq? ›

Kristina wasn't depicted as a lesbian, though the script did briefly allude to an attraction to another woman. Instead, the story fabricates a romance with a Spanish noble man since Kristina being gay wouldn't have been allowed by censors or accepted by audiences at the time.

Who is The Woman King based off of? ›

The Woman King is a 2022 American historical epic film about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries. Set in the 1820s, the film stars Viola Davis as a general who trains the next generation of warriors to fight their enemies.

Who is the girl King based on? ›

The Girl King is a 2015 biographical drama about Christina, Queen of Sweden.

How historically accurate is The Woman King? ›

Are the Characters Based on Real People? While most of the basic historical framework is fairly accurate, many of the characters are not. The only one that is clearly based on a real person is King Ghezo. However, Ghezo is not the great leader and wise man the movie makes him out to be.

Is the girl King based on a true story? ›

Davis debuted that bold new persona in the first trailer for The Woman King, which lets viewers know that the film is “based on powerful true events,” and teases “the most exceptional female warriors to ever live.” So if you were wondering whether The Woman King was based on a true story, the answer is yes!

Is The Woman King factual? ›

Is the movie based on a true story? Yes and no. The basic framework of the story is inspired by true events, but it is heavily fictionalized and dramatized. The Agojie was an all-female warrior group that did exist and they did protect the kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin) in West Africa.

What is the controversy with The Woman King? ›

The main point of contention by online critics is that the movie seemingly uplifts the women without fully acknowledging that the Dahomey tribe sold other Africans into slavery. “Time to Boycott the Woman King movie. The film is about the Dahomey & Benin that traded slaves into the transatlantic.

Why did Dahomey sell slaves? ›

Both domestic slavery and the Atlantic slave trade were important to the economy of Dahomey. Men, women, and children captured by Dahomey in wars and slave raids were sold to European slave traders in exchange for various goods such as rifles, gunpowder, textiles, cowry shells, and alcohol.

When did the Dahomey tribe stop slavery? ›

In 1851-1852, the British imposed a naval blockade on the ports of Dahomey in order to force them to end the slave trade. In January 1852, Ghezo accepted a treaty with the British ending the export of slaves from Dahomey.

Where is Cristina buried? ›

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Is the girl who saved the King of Sweden a true story? ›

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is loosely based on the real six nuclear missiles built in South Africa during the 1980s. In the book, this seventh bomb is the one everyone forgot about, and Nombeko is responsible for the fate of the world.

What parts of The Woman King are true? ›

The basic framework of the story is inspired by true events, but it is heavily fictionalized and dramatized. The Agojie was an all-female warrior group that did exist and they did protect the kingdom of Dahomey (modern day Benin) in West Africa. That part is real, and apparently at one point the army had 6,000 members.

Did Dahomey trade slaves? ›

As historian Robin Law notes, Dahomey emerged as a key player in the trafficking of West Africans between the 1680s and early 1700s, selling its captives to European traders whose presence and demand fueled the industry—and, in turn, the monumental scale of Dahomey's warfare.

How well did The Woman King do at the box office? ›

The Woman King, starring the Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis, owned the domestic box office charts, earning $19M during its opening weekend. After earning an A+ CinemaScore, the film exceeded the initial expectations of about $15 million to $18 million; with Sony projecting the movie to hit $12 million.

Is The Woman King offensive? ›

While the movie has received favourable comments from certain viewers, others have expressed their displeasure at the film production by Sony and the director ' Gina Prince-Bythewood'. A Twitter user, Antonio Moore called the historical epic “the most offensive film to Black Americans in 40-50 years.”

How much does it cost to make a female king? ›

Box-office analysts expect “The Woman King” will easily recoup its $50 million production budget and has the potential to expand to a broader audience as word of mouth spreads, much like Paramount and Skydance's “Top Gun: Maverick” has in recent months.

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