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Ekeomah Atuonwu

THE WOMAN KING, which debuted last Friday and was screened on Saturday at one of Cotonou’s few movie theaters, was based on the true account of the Agojie women who defended the old Kingdom of Dahomey and engaged in conflict with French colonial forces in the 19th century.

The Oscar-winning American actress Viola Davis portrays the lead role of General Nanisca, who trains the new recruits in battle against an adversarial African country and European slave traffickers.

Gina Prince-production, Bythewood’s which was primarily shot in South Africa, has drawn accolades for casting black actors in key roles while also drawing condemnation for its alleged promotion of slavery.

At the premiere in Benin’s economic capital, a descendant of Ghezo, a King of Dahomey, who attended the screening at Canal Olympia cinema, shed tears during the viewing.

The Dahomey Amazons have been honored numerous times previously, most notably in the 2018 movie Black Panther, when the Dora Milaje warriors of Wakanda were modeled after them.

A 30-meter-high bronze statue of an Amazon was just unveiled in the heart of Cotonou by Benin’s President Patrice Talon.


The statue was chosen, according to the government, as a showcase for a significant portion of its history and a symbol of national identity in an effort to draw tourists.

Some Americans have criticized the film for omitting to mention the part Dahomey Kingdom played in the slave trade. On Twitter, #boycottwomanking has become popular.

Senami Totin, a lawyer and activist in the country, claims that the movie can also help some Beninese women address concerns related to women’s rights.

“In a patriarchal society like we have in Benin, you need a lot of courage and determination to defend women’s rights,” she said, listing challenges from impunity for rape, forced marriages, exclusion of women from inheritance rights, and a lack of representation in politics.

“We no longer have to fight wars against enemy armies but the fight for women’s emancipation is a daily one, and for that, we have to have an Amazon spirit,” she added. In addition to celebrating the Beninese woman, actress Viola Davis said she hopes the film also inspires young girls around the world.

Senami Totin
Viola Davis /The Guardian/

The Woman King parades top Hollywood actors like Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, and Nollywood’s Jimi Odukoya among others.

While Odukoya plays Oba Ade, Viola Davis acts the Agojie general, Nanisca, and John Boyega plays King Ghezo, a real-life figure who ruled Dahomey from 1818 to 1858 and engaged in the slave trade. As The Woman King hits the cinema across Nigeria, Jimi Odukoya’s expectation is to see Nigerians exude with pride in any area they are representing the nation.

“I want Nigerians to have a sense of pride, that Nigerian pride, in any area they are representing our country and doing it well. I want this movie to spark a sense of curiosity and inspire Nigerians to believe in their dreams, because it is possible,” he stated.

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Ekeomah Atuonwu

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