‘The Woman King’ immortalizes black female warriors on screen

that’s right When Gina Prince-Bythewood signs on for our video call the first image I see is a picture of herself as a little girl. She’s walking a few minutes behind her last interview, so when we first meet, she doesn’t have a camera, literally, face-to-face.

I asked him the specific Zoom starter question: Are we doing video or not? To which she replied, “Well, you can see me as a little girl or…” before we both burst into laughter. Instead of completing that sentence, he acted on screen, apologizing for his slowness.

The filmmaker appears to be smiling ear-to-ear inside an office adorned with countless framed personal and celebrity photos of black people wearing a graphic tee and black blazer. But the most noticeable thing are black women and girls.

It means so much when you consider that it is a testament to the work that Prince-Bythewood has been doing throughout his three-decade career. No doubt about it: she loves to see images of black women immortalized.

This is evident in all his films, including “love and basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Beyond the Lights” and “The Old Guard.” And she doesn’t dance around him; it’s intentional. In fact, during most of our conversations, she takes the familiar comfort of saying “us.” Like, she does it for We,

Actor Sana Lathan is seen on the sets of New Line Cinema film "love and basketball," Around 2000.
Actress Sanna Lathan appeared on the set of the New Line cinema film “Love and Basketball” circa 2000.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

In fact, as Prince-Bythewood specifies, her work is intertwined with her greater desire to recreate the way black femininity was seen and portrayed on screen. “I think it’s about redefining what we think about when we say woman,” she said. “Definitely started with ‘Love and Basketball’ and it’s so autobiographical.”

That 2000 romance centers on a young black woman (Sana Lathan) whose love for basketball is as deep as her love for the one next door (Omar Epps). Prince-Bythewood also played ball in school and is married to filmmaker Reggie Rock-Bythewood.

“Knowing that I grew up being told there was something wrong with me because I loved sports and didn’t want to dress up – still don’t like getting dressed,” Prince-Bythewood continued , “Then really digging into those themes with ‘Beyond the Lights’ and the hypersexuality of what we’re told we should have in our music. Then to get to ‘The Old Guard’ and then ‘The Woman King’ – these Women are incredible warriors.

this is true. The fiery characters of “The Woman King” are unlike any women we’ve seen in the movie before. Well, since Dora Milaje In 2018’s “The Black Panther,” who were actually inspired by the women portrayed in Prince-Bythewood’s film. But in “The Woman King” they are not part of the story. they Huh Story.

Lashana stars in a scene from Lynch "female king."
Lashana Lynch stars in a scene from “The Woman King”.

Ilz Kitschoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Bold, black, muscular, beautiful, vulnerable and completely unforgivable. They are the real-life Dahomey Amazons, an all-female military regiment that guarded present-day Benin for several centuries until the early 1900s.

Prince-Bythewood and her phenomenal cast and crew — including actors Viola Davis (who is also a producer), Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim — pay respects to these women on the big screen. They are multifaceted and complex, have strong AF and are illuminated in all their glory through the brilliant work of cinematographer Polly Morgan.

“I wanted to celebrate the athletic body and their frame and the way they see the world,” Prince-Bythewood said. “Yet that doesn’t take away from them their humanity, the vulnerability, as women, which in itself is an incredible force.”

She continued: “Given that a lot of women aren’t taught to tap into that born warrior that we have – we’re always told to downplay it, to be cool, to be small. While I’m an athlete As I was growing up, I should have grown up. I want to give that to us.”

And he has. But “The Woman King,” as the filmmakers alluded to, isn’t just about showing off the shiny, almost supernatural muscles of black female defenders of an African empire. There is also a rich story that revolves around his dreams, fears and the politics of a homeland that is moving away from his control due to intercontinental wars and the Atlantic slave trade.

Lashana Lynch advises Thuso Mbedu's Navi "female king."
Lashana Lynch mentions Thuso Mbedu’s Navi in ​​”The Woman King”.

Sony Pictures Entertainment

At the center of the film, however, are the intimate relationships between the women. Some of them are competitors, like young Navi (Mabedu) and some of his fellow recruits. Others are nurturing, such as Lynch’s veteran warrior, or self-determined, such as Davis’ titular character, General Naniska. There is also an unexpected connection between a mother and her daughter.

“The phrase immediately came to mind: intimately epic,” said Prince-Bythewood, when she first read the script and understood its many layers. She “wanted to start with those relationships. Because at the end of the day, all the glory is great and beautiful. But it doesn’t make sense if you don’t care about the characters.”

That means also creating elaborate battle scenes – of which there are plenty – purposefully and visually evocative as moments when women are exchanging personal stories or dancing in celebration or on their own. As an embrace of authority. This isn’t a film that rests only in a blockbuster action space (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Rather, “The Woman King” thrives on both her personal dimensions and extraordinary cinematic vitality. It shows a filmmaker at the top of his game and the many women he’s teamed with. eagerly pushed themselves to their highest potential During this tight shoot that lasted for 63 days in South Africa.

“I love my cast so much,” said Prince-Bythewood with a big smile.

It also stars John Boyega, whose role as King Ghezzo (based on a real person, like Navi) is small but important. Inevitably, he often happens to assert his ruling power over the Dahomey (and dominance over his many wives), yet extends his intense admiration to the women who defend his kingdom.

Viola Davis as Naniska and John Boyega as King Gezzo "female king."
Viola Davis plays Naniska and John Boyega plays King Ghezzo in “The Woman King”.

Ilz Kitschoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment

When Prince-Bythewood met Boyega for the role, she was impressed by his commitment to raising the women in his midst. “He’s used to lead roles and he literally said, ‘I want to use my power to help you guys make it,'” she recalled. “‘I want to be there to support you.’ That never happens.”

This sense of support has resonated throughout the production. “Often you end the scene and people go back to the trailers,” Prince-Bythewood said. “A lot of people didn’t leave the set on it. They wanted to see each other’s work.”

Honestly, who can blame them? The set itself, by production designer Akin Mackenzie, is absolutely stunning and instantly immerses the audience as well as the cast in the story.

“I wanted to give the actors a 360-world to play in,” said the director. “I could see the 1800s. I don’t want you to look up and see a car or a plane overhead. I want you to be there with your feet in that red earth and it will be real.”

“Akin did such an incredible job and it was amazing to be inside that set because the outside world just collapsed.”

To call “The Woman King” arrogant would almost be an understatement. It’s a revelation, and something Prince-Bythewood has never done before. But it was an opportunity she had been preparing for a long time.

Viola Davis and Gina Prince speak on the set of Bytewood "female king."
Viola Davis and Gina Prince-Bythewood speak on the set of “The Woman King.”

Ilz Kitschoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment

“I would say that in the last 10 years I have always wanted to do a big film like this,” she said. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies. We ain’t got nothing like it.”

As stated by the filmmaker many interviews in the past, she had for years focused on a story about Haitian general Toussaint Louverture. One of his two sons has also shared his name.

,[The Louverture movie] There was a story running around in my mind that I wanted to do,” Prince-Bythewood said. “I also had a desire to play in the big sandbox, of course what the ‘Old Guard’ allowed me to do. Once you’re there, you just want to keep going.”

“The Woman King” gave her the opportunity to be in that sandbox “in a way we’ve never had the opportunity to do that — except in ‘Black Panther’,” she continued. “I felt like all my work got to the point where I felt like I knew how to do this movie the right way.”

Thuso Mbedu faces a menacing threat in the form of Navi "female king."
Thuso Mbedu faces a menacing threat as Navi in ​​”The Woman King”.

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Prince-Bythewood really felt this way five years ago when she first came across the project Davis was already attached to, the same way many of us hear about the upcoming movies: according to an article online. I through.

And he felt in a way that he hadn’t been approached about it at the time. “I literally said to myself, ‘Why didn’t they come to me? He remembered.

Then they did, but there was no script. When he asked them to come back when they had one—what was the grand tale of Mario Bello and Dana Stevens—it was just a year and a half ago, when Prince-Bythewood decided to take a breather after “the” someone. original members of a group or party.”

But after reading the script, the ready-made filmmaker knew he had to seize the opportunity. “It was an absolute,” she said. “‘I want to do this film.’ Not an ‘I want.’ I passed To.”

However, he missed his promise to take time off, and decided to forgo a more important channel in his decision-making process. “I sent the script to my husband, and he read it immediately,” said the director. “I still have those texts where he said, ‘This is your next movie.’ He was everything because I needed his support to go on this journey.”

It began with Prince-Bythewood hiring consultants to help delve into the life of Dahomey Amazons and proofread the film over a “stack” of books, magazines and documentaries. Amazingly, what she found was that a lot of material was written about women with little regard for their humanity.

“A lot of the things written about Dahomey and these women—whether it was books or articles—were with a full Western look and feel,” said Prince-Bythewood, “and were written by people who didn’t have the means to dehumanize us.” was a complete impetus. Show us like wild people. ,

From left: Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheela Atim star in "female king."
From left: Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim star in “The Woman King”.

Ilz Kitschoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment

But he and his team were determined to “investigate through it to reach the truth”.

As a result, Prince-Bythewood has created his own work. She even looks back and says, “The movie is what I wanted.”

The relentless determination to illuminate black female humanity paid off in a way that only a female director, especially a black woman, could ensure. She gives the film just as much respect and love for herself and other black women—in all their complexities, full of joy, camaraderie, heartache, fierceness, and self-love.

“I hope my work is starting to do that,” said Prince-Bythewood, “that women can see on screen and reflect on themselves in a way that’s inspiring to them.”

“The Woman King” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in theaters on September 16.

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