September 20, 2022 – This dramatic war movie, set in Africa in the 1820s, is loosely based on historical events surrounding conflicts between two West African empires, the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Oyo Empire.
Dahomey was well-known to Europeans, and famous for its all-female military units called Agojie (Europeans called them the “Dahomey Amazons”). Heading the Agojie, and a powerful figure in the royal court, is Nanisca (played by Viola Davis of “Widows”). When war with the Oyo Empire seems imminent, some advise caution, but Nanisca says the Agojie are ready to fight, right now. King Ghezo (played by John Boyega of recent Star Wars movies) trusts Nanisca, and follows her advice.
When the Oyo, who have long held dominion over the Dahomey, demand tribute, including slaves, from King Ghezo, he refuses payment in a very dramatic way, setting off a war. A new recruit to the Agojie, the fierce, independent, Nawi (played by Thuso Mbedu of “The Underground Railroad” mini-series) catches Nanisca's attention. Some of Nawi's pranks tempt Nanisca to throw her out of the Agojie, but then she discovers something astonishing about the young girl's background.
Nawi becomes an important warrior in a decisive battle with the Oyo army, as well as some daring raids by the Agojie. Nanisca's judgement becomes compromised by her relationship with Nawi, as well as her extreme hatred for the Oyo general Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya of “Mamba's Diamond”). These forces tugging at Nanisca's heart are both tied to secrets from her tragic past.
Nanisca advises Nawi to put aside her feelings and follow orders, but she can't follow her own advice when the king's orders come into conflict with her own heart. Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu give excellent performances, powering the emotional center of this story. The battle scenes are well choreographed by Filip Ciprian Florian (“Monster Hunter”).
While this is an effective action film with a strong dramatic story, it does play fast and loose with history. If you have heard about some of the protests against this movie, it could well be that some of the protesters are actual descendants of slaves captured and sold by the Kingdom of Dahomey.
The Kingdom of Dahomey and the Oyo Empire were both involved in the slave trade, as well as ruthless military expansion at the expense of other kingdoms and tribes. This movie is a toned-down, sanitized, politically-corrected version of the real history of these warring kingdoms, while also including a lot of fact-based details.
Do not rely on this movie for an accurate historical account, but you can rely on it for an entertaining, well-crafted movie experience. This movie isn't primarily about history anyway. It is primarily a drama about two women torn between their emotional connections and the strictures of the society they were born into.
Despite the historical inaccuracies, this movie still provides a good jumping off point for those who want to further explore this highly unusual historical era. This film rates a B.
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