The irony is I have been waiting for years for an interesting, historically accurate film depicting pre-colonial Africa (a subject I have always been interested in) and I would have been the first in line to watch this movie. Alas, I’m a white Englishman so very little about this propaganda piece designed to massage the egos of culturally insecure African-Americans appeals to me or people like me. At least movies like Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda only had to distort history a bit while remaining interesting. This is just insane revisionism.
I would recommend the 1980s series Shaka Zulu which I very much enjoyed when it was repeated on British TV a few years ago. Not sure if it was entirely historically accurate but didn’t seem like propaganda on behalf of anyone or anything in particular, and it was certainly entertaining.
While looking up Dahomey, I ran into the book “Travels in Western Africa, in 1845 & 1846” by John Duncan (the original source of the ‘running through thorns’ anecdote). Worth reading if you’re interested in the pre-colonial African kingdom and it’s relationship with European traders with the Portuguese buying slaves to take to Brazil, and the Royal Navy warships stopping them. Link here: https://books.google.com/books?id=MvMxAQAAMAAJ
Interestingly the film has been attacked by some black commentators as being an attack on black masculinity as the males in the film are depicted as week, irresolute, and dependent on the women for guidance. It was regarded as matriarchal propaganda rather than pro-black propaganda.
The problem is that while Hollywood’s distortions of WW2 to big up the US involvement is culturally harmless the distortions here feed into a toxic narrative that slavery was executed exclusively by wicked white men rather than the truth that slavery was endemic to Africa and often involved human sacrifice and the Dahomey Amazons were a ruthless bunch of slave raiders and were in fact no match in practice for outnumbered European troops when it came to battle.
I think we would be rightly offended at a film that depicted German stormtroopers as the saviours of Jewish orphans from wicked bands of French partisans particularly if Germans had been fed the idea that the Germans were the good guys for a generation ( which, of course, they have not).
> .. the males in the film are depicted as week, irresolute, and dependent on the women for guidance.
That will sound all too familiar to anyone who has watched almost any recent American film – The female characters are typically brisk, dominant leaders, if not outright super-heroes, who have to contend with, and often defend and rescue, hopeless male nincompoops!
I realise older Hollywood films generally had patronising male John Wayne type leads, in every sense of the word, and women were usually in one way or another subservient. But do film makers these days really have to swing so far to the opposite extreme?
Well, there is Burton and Taylor in Cleopatra.
Gladiator places a fictional leading character in a real world with real supporting characters. The key appeal of the movie is the truth of that world lending credibility to the fictional plot and intensifying our emotions – that is why the story is set in the Roman world and not on Planet Zog. Both the world and the supporting characters are as ugly as they were in reality.
The Woman King also places a fictional leading character in a real world with real supporting characters. The key appeal of the movie is the truth of that world lending credibility to the fictional plot and intensifying our emotions – that is why the story is set in the Dahomey world and not on Planet Zog. Yet both the world and the supporting characters have had their fundamental nature fictionalised as much as the leading character. Credibility has been hijacked, not loaned. That is what makes it dishonest and makes the writers’ motives suspect.
You are not very up on your conspiracy theories, ZOG = Zionist Occupation Government in conspiracy speak
”Zionist Occupation Government conspiracy theory
The Zionist occupation government, Zionist occupational government or Zionist-occupied government, sometimes also referred to as the Jewish occupational government, is an antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming Jews secretly control the governments of Western states”
I think you are confusing your already very confused analyst of this atrocious movie with extraneous weirdness, and not even noticing you are doing it.
My Review – twisted mess. (by just reading about it, the thought of seeing it makes me sick; sadistic violence is not fun to me, I have seen too much IRL.)
But then I find almost all Netflix and Prime and MSM output to be pretty much sick, twisted, Satan inspired garbage, so an a biased critic.
And I thought Planet Zog was from an old comic in the forties!
Whereas I have no problem in placing a fictional character within a real world setting, I do object to real events and characters within that setting being changed. For example, in Gladiator Commodus did not die in the way portrayed and there is no evidence that he had a sexual liaison with his sister, in fact he was probably gay.
Is the reality that much different?
Commodus served as a gladiator and was killed by a professional fighter. Yes, his actual death was in private in a bathhouse and not in public but does that change anything but the dramatic effect?
Whether he was probably gay or probably didn’t have a sexual liason is a matter of probability, not fact, and doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of Commodus – the movie uses that to underline the fact that his behaviour towards his sister was – to modern eyes – a tad cruel and megalomaniacal.
It was a political assassination, though.
Gay? How anachronistic!
Which is to say, then, that The Woman King is really set on Planet Zog, having no historical significance, but filled with anticipatory hysteria from all directions and persuasions.
“Based on true events” we are told. But would Hollywood make a film about heroic white British naval officers and seamen suppressing the cruel slave traders of Africa? I think not although nearer the truth of the 1830s. Or perhaps the life of Efunroye Tinubu, the aristocratic female Yoruba slave trader to whom a statue remains unmolested in Nigeria.
Excellent stuff as ever. Although I’m a little disappointed not to have seen a reference to the great adventurer Flashman, who also met King Ghezo in Dahomey (Flash for Freedom!).
Yes, I was thinking of George MacDonald Fraser as well. The funniest thing is that “Flash for Freedom!” contains a lot of historically valid, carefully researched material – certainly more than the film under discussion, by the sound of things…
I think DS will have had to physically restrain himself from putting one in.
No mention of Bruce Chatwin’s novelisation of this period in “The Viceroy of Ouidah” or the French historian Pierre Verger’s magisterial “Flux et reflux de la traite des négres entre le golfe de Bénin et Bahia.”
It reminds me a bit of the historical fancies in Gladiator, which didn’t just involve making brutal people into heroes, but imagined a history where Marcus Aurelius wanted to make Rome into some sort of democracy.
Silly as all heck but beautifully silly and a great, exciting, emotionally moving film.
I imagine this film would be the same, except it is a little hard to take the constant rhetoric about the evils of the colonial Europeans and the importance of being accurate about it, then see a film like this which seems to deliberately obscure the role of the African slave trading kingdoms be presented as if such things don’t really matter.
At heart, then, the story of The Woman King isn’t really a story about Dahomey in the 19th century, but one about the wildly hysterical racial politics of America in the 21st.
One of the first things I was taught about reading historical documents is that any secondary source (that is commentary of the events that took place) tell you more about the time that they were written than the events of the past. Just as modern historians will (rightly) point out that 19th century historians were writing from the perspective of imperial Europe 21st century historians are often writing from the perspective of Woke US/UK. Unfortunately they fail to recognise the latter fact.
Yes they are narcissistic enough to believe that all people who came before them were trapped by history, but that they are uniquely unencumbered by it themselves, such that their views represent Objective truth and objective morality and that it is both fitting and necessary that they judge all simpletons that came before them.
No mention of the Annual Customs of Dahomey, I expect. For those unaware of this “celebration” it involved massive human sacrifice. Questions were asked in Parliament, but as it was not a British colony nothing could be done about it.
The excerpt you provide should be required reading for anyone pontificating about British involvement in the slave trade.
Linda, the typo here could be misleading to a casual reader. Could you correct ‘was on’ to ‘was not’?
I don’t think Dahomey was ever a British colony. I think you will find it was French.
Thank-you – done.
Uptick. Goes with the John Duncan book I mentioned.
Thank you for posting. Fascinating!
A similar thing happened in my daughter’s school. She was given a list of “badass girls from history” and told to do a project about one of them. She and her friend were leaning towards Sayyida al Hurra, the “Pirate Queen” from Spain. The materials she got from school were full of spunky Sayyida standing up to those nasty Christians. So I gently pointed the daughter to some other online resources chronicling how Sayyida – along with Hayreddin Barbarossa – started the Barbary slave trade, which enslaved over 1 million people over its existence. Common sense returned and the daughter did a project on Amelia Earhart or Marie Curie or somesuch instead.
Obviously this would have terrible consequences in the current climate, but did the idea of a puff piece focussing on her slave trading prowess and praising her business acumen cross your mind? Something like: Sayidda possessed a great talent for her vocation. With nearly a million white Europeans, many from modern day Britain and Ireland, captured in daring raids and sold into slavery, she amassed great wealth and influence, etc., etc.
My CANADIAN niece in Grade 8 was assigned Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” to report on and swallowed every word in it. She bought her as the accomplished woman her teacher sold her as instead of someone who along with her half white husband took the Affirmative Action magic carpet ride to fame and riches starting with both gaining entrance to Ivy League schools for which they were not the best qualified except for skin color. Without that golden ticket they would have been nothing and nobody.
I suppose it’s a sign of the times, but nowhere in this article or the comments, or in fact the producers or stars of the film, do I see mention of the book “Barracoon” by Zora Neale Hurston. It is an interview with the last African slave alive, Cudjo Lewis (Kossola) who was captured by the Dahomian warriors and illegally brought to the United States aboard the last slave ship “Clotilda” in 1860. Though much of the interview concerns his life of freedom after being emancipated in 1865, Cudjo’s description of the raid on his village by the female warriors is terrifying. No, REALLY, terrifying. If you think you have the guts, you should read it. It’s reality directly from someone who experienced all phases of the slave trade – being captured in a raid, being warehoused in a barracoon, taking the middle passage, and being a slave in Alabama.
This leads to my objection of the film, in that it “conveniently” continues a tactic of the last 100 years by the NAACP and other alleged “civil rights” groups to suppress widespread knowledge of African participation in slavery, the European slave trade, and any other distasteful aspects of African “history”. “Barracoon” was not published until 2018, almost 100 years after Hurston spent 3 months interviewing Cudjo in 1927. The most public objection to the book at the time was that Hurston used “dialetic” to convey how Cudjo actually spoke (e.g. “How come you astee me ain’ we had no God back dere in Afficky?”). In reality the strongest objection, from the NAACP and others, was that it informed people about African participation in the slave trade which they believed would harm their efforts to obtain equal rights for African Americans and end Jim Crow and segregation.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this film appears to align with the 1619 project and other current efforts to alter reality to foment hatred and division in the pursuit of financial gain.
Thank you I have just purchased it.
I think you’re misreading the motives of the two white Hollywood actresses behind this film. This was clearly an attempt to center #GIRLBOSS warriors, and the fact that the warriors were BIPOC was just icing on the cake for the two intersectional feminists.
The Agojie’s history as slave raiders didn’t discourage them from making the film only because there are virtually no other examples of women warriors in recent times, so they simply changed history to fit their vision of badass female fighters who were also morally pure.
I think this film and the controversy surrounding it will end up being a net positive for more people learning the true history of slavery. The film has prompted a lot of African Americans to attack it for celebrating one of the kingdoms that sold their ancestors into slavery, which is a good thing. However the fact that the characters discuss African kingdoms selling slaves at all is somewhat remarkable for a Hollywood film, and it’s definitely not something the 1619 crowd wants the young black audience that this film is targeting to spend time thinking about.
Hope you are right because an open discussion is long overdue.
Yes, former attorney general Eric Holder’s charge that Americans are AFRAID to discuss slavery and racism is laughably wrong. Only the 95% of blacks like him who vote Democrat and their white Dem enablers are afraid to discuss slavery in all its ramifications because of blacks’ key role in the supply chain. Black crime against blacks must be ignored, same as now in Chicago and all other black-run neighborhoods/ghettos, cities, states and the Dark Continent of Africa.
The 5% of blacks who are honest on this issue like Dr. Thomas Sowell have enlightened many of us but are reviled by black leaders for shattering the narrative of victimhood.
And there’s people that tell us not to read the comments’ section. Thank you!
CNN’s Don Lemon was schooled in one glorious minute by a calm British-Royalty voice on these matters: Would that the makers of ‘The Woman King’ had been with Don, listening to the same lesson.
‘Saw that. CNN’s Lemon’s expression when told that it was black African tribal leaders who sourced the slaves & that thousands of British seaman died fighting to prevent slave ships from leaving Africa was priceless. It’s time for the National Shakedown in the USA to cease.
Loved the rabbit in head-light stare of Mr. Lemon. But none of what she said was news for anyone with even the slightest inclination to check facts. Thinking back, I believe that it was the opening sequence to Roots which showed Europeans chasing down African men to capture and put under the yoke. Even at my very young age when I saw it I doubted this (think of all the diseases); but I didn’t really know how slaves were obtained so, I went to our local library and looked it up. Easy to do.
By the way, an interesting article about the British attempts at suppressing the slave trade, from the Hispanic American Historical Review published by Duke University:
Yes, Arab Muslim slave traders did not penetrate the Dark Continent in search of slaves during their centuries of slave trading and neither did whites who participated for a hiccup of historic time before deciding it was inhumane and fighting against it, alone of all races.
Africa held many dangers, not just tropical diseases but predatory wildlife and challenging topography as well. African blacks were always the critical first step in the supply chain, enslaving fellow blacks from defeated tribes and driving the surplus overland to the Arab Mideast with great loss of life as the buyers preferred mostly women or to the coast where slave ships awaited.
You’re assuming that the makers of the film would be swayed by facts. They have a message to impart and the square peg of history will be smashed into the round hole of whites solely responsible for slavery, no matter what the source material actually says.
It’s not true that films are either movies or documentaries and that they cannot be both.
One need only watch the brilliantly told series Chernobyl, which was both historically accurate and grippingly dramatic. An artistic masterpiece and a compellingly faithful-to-events documentary of sorts.
Part of the problem with Hollywood is that it doesn’t have nuance in its DNA.
It always amazes me when I watch Scandinavian films that their characters are so complex and the the messages so understated, which always paradoxically makes them all the more powerful.
Contrast this to the last hollywood film I watched when the announcement of the central protagonists testicular cancer diagnosis was mixed to sad violin music.
I could almost see the writer scribbling in the column of his notebook: “note to self: onset of testicular cancer must be underpinned by sad music so audience knows cancer tragic”.
I once had a discussion with a musician about film music, as I often find it irritating, and I will always remember a comment that he made – they have to have the music, and it has to be obviuos because they fear that you will not know what to feel otherwise.
It is certainly one of the many films based on true facts in which history is completely altered. Sacred books include plenty of stories in which defeats are narrated as heroic victories. Even films portray handsome British pirates attacking evil Spanish or French captains. Henry VIII is a handsome young man in love with beautiful six-fingered Anne Boleyn – not that he married her for political reasons, and Queen Elizabeth was infatuated with a handsome Walter Raleigh, who was busy ransacking Portuguese and Spanish ships as Somali pirates do nowadays. The new politically correctness includes blacks and Muslim slave traders portrayed as wise, brave feminists and anti-imperialists freedom fighters. Karl Polanyi in Dahomey and the Slave Trade describes how European explorers received slaves from African slave traders as gifts even if they initially did not want them, gold and ivory being much easier to handle.Dahomey certainly had half of its administration made of women, and slave raiding and warfare were fundamental activities. It is worth noting that female genital mutilation, a native African torture, is conducted by women. Therefore, women can play a fundamental role in perpetuating torture, child marriage, slavery, and other cruel practices against women and children. The Khomeinists and other religious movements that promote child marriage and polygyny rely on a wide group of female supporters. The saddest part is that in the name of progressiveness, the opposite values are promoted: violence, manipulated history, racial and religious hate. Real women’s rights supporters are forgotten or ignored, and non-European slave traders are pop heroes.
This is the same John Boyega who, when describing his romantic preferences, stated he “only does black”.
Now glorifying a black king who fought the British to preserve slavery.
Jut plug me back into the Matrix.
“All the same, I’m not going to get too exercised about it. Shrieking and shouting about Hollywood films is never a good look. They come and they go, and most ordinary viewers are far too sensible to take them seriously.”
Okay, don’t be upset about one example of cinematic propaganda. Trouble is, this movie is by no means unusual. It follows a didactic pattern that will become more common, and therefore less noticeable, due to the ascendancy of wokism. I suggest that a steady diet of similar movies (along with their equivalents in other mass-mediated productions) will eventually have the intended effects on even “sensible” viewers.
There’s an entire sub-genre of “slavery porn” movies such as “Twelve years a slave”, “Amistad”, “Django Unchained” and many more, always portraying blacks as noble and whites as vicious. “The Woman King” is just another addition and will not be the last.
“Shrieking and shouting about Hollywood films is never a good look. They come and they go, and most ordinary viewers are far too sensible to take them seriously”
This reminds me of the Mel Gibson film about William Wallace. The ScotsNats are still taking that abortion of a film very seriously indeed.
At the Scottish release, the SNP were standing outside afterwards, leafleting cinemagoers.
Enjoyable, well written review; thank you!
“They come and they go…” – it’s true, but when they go, they leave an impression on the public mind that is more difficult to combat than a straightforward, bare-faced lie, since it doesn’t exist anywhere specifically, but hangs like a bad smell all over the place.
…I do hope some litigous African/Americans with a West African genotype are getting up a class-action against Maria Bello/John Boyega/Viola Davis for the mental distress caused to them by this gross mis-representation of the people who enslaved them as somehow decent and heroic…as opposed to the brutal and exploitative Imperialists they were…for many, many centuries…
…until we British finally dealt with them in 1897…in the expedition which seized the Benin Bronzes to defray the costs of putting an end to their slave-trading activities.
As an aside, the bronze to make the Bronzes was bought from the Portugese for slaves…and as we marched on their capital we found young women and girls staked out on the road, disembowelled alive and left to die in terrible pain…to cast a spell, or frighten us away…didn’t work..!
Now that would make a good action movie about how the slave-trade actually worked, and who really put a stop to it…but I’m not holding my breathe!
“Does all this matter? Maybe not. To repeat: all historical films turn fact into fiction. If you go to Hollywood for your history, that’s your problem, not theirs.”
Beyond myopic and naïve. The majority of people in the US who are the target audience probably can’t name the 1st 3 Presidents. This is their history.
This is NOT just a movie
This movie will need a lot of hypocrisy and cynicism from ‘anti-racist’ libs in order to be successful.
I therefore predict it will be a great hit.
Just watch Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde instead. It’s a stunning film and one which I expect will last much longer than this Hollywood dross.
Thanks for the link to the documentary by Lupita Nyong’o, which looks interesting. Streamed by Channel 4 to my surprise.
Shouldn’t there have been an equal mix of white and black, male and female, straight and gay actors playing the parts of the Dahomean warriors? I jest of course.
We all know blacks are cast to play white roles in white stories written by white authors whereas the reverse is impossible. It’s one-way cultural appropriation with white fictional characters turned black like Little Orphan Annie, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and soon The Little Mermaid and James Bond. But when they plunk blacks into powdered wigs and silks and satins in Regency England as in Bridgerton or worse into historic roles as in Hamilton, that’s gross.
I remember Sathnam Sanghera saying it was a good thing that the young people are learning their history from Instagram and Movies, so I guess he’ll be pleased anyway.
Maybe it is a good thing. Because they cant handle the truth!
If there’s one empire that needs to go, it’s the American one. They’re driving me up the wall.
Anyway, I know Benin well having built a factory near Bohicon formerly the capital of Dahomey. I did the trip around these kings mud palace and they really did have a thing about skulls. The Kings throne is made of them, he used to watch the slave markets on it and behead the ones that he couldn’t sell. By the way, there’s still a king who lives in the Caribbean in luxury c/o the French and his families slaving fortune.
As for Brazil when the former President visited our project he had a Brazil team tracksuit on with the yellow shirt, he’s married to a de Souza the descendant of the original Portuguese slave trader.
I wish these liberals would stop whining about the past nobody there spends much time dwelling on it.
There’s not many books about Benin but I seem to recall Cobra Verde, unless that was the film. By the way, Ouidah is a beautiful fascinating place to visit, even La porte da non-retourn, also go during the world Voodoo festival unless you’re a squeamish liberal that is.
That was a film, based on a short novel by Bruce Chatwin.
The Viceroy of Ouidah?
Interestingly, both in Black Panther and this movie, the “heroic” and fictional black tribes depicted don’t seem keen on diversity and the insertion of minority races.
It’s also interesting that there is no black utopia Wakanda from the Black Panther anywhere on earth. Black-run areas actually deteriorate as in Rhodesia the bread basket of Africa turned into basket case Zimbabwe, unable to feed itself without white charity. No neighborhood improves when blacks replace whites.
I’m Portuguese and we are a very small country, often forgotten. So it’s woth joy I read references about the only period in our history we were relevant. “We” aparently enslaved and transported 8 million human beings. But the idea that my ancestors could have captured these people is ludicrous. Imagine a ragtag band of Europeans armed with single fire muskets, venturing into the African jungles, and battling against African warriors that were more and in better shape and knew the terrain, and this discounting the many African diseases that killed whites like flies until the second half of the xx century. The good old Arabs had established the markets long before the Europeans arrived, and millions of Africans were taken to Arabia and surroundings, the pious Muslims castrated those slaves and that’s why you don’t see many blacks in Ryad. It’s funny that so many black Americans traded their “slave name” for a Muslim one. It only shows how dumb most identitarian movements are .
It’s strange when you consider the implications of the slave trade according to “Roots” type story-telling.
So Africans were really that helpless and incapable of escaping captivity? They just accepted their enslavement an masse without a fight or widespread organization to resist?
Of course not, they came from nations and tribes where slavery was already prevalent and an accepted part of life. Had slavery not existed in those regions at the time, capturing slaves in those numbers would have been outright impossible. It’s easy to do horrible things to people if it’s commonplace (or if they believe it is).
Give me ‘ZULU’ any day.
On a related note, the best docudrama that I’ve ever seen about the pilgrims and native americans is called ‘saints and strangers’ it is interesting, dramatic and factual even down to the indians speaking their native language except for Squanto. Produced with distinction by National Geographic.
Are the action scenes any good?
I’m sure they will have plenty of money throw at the SFX budget – sounds as though they saved enough on research and screenplay.
I was uneasy going in to the film, because I knew the real history of Ghezo. The film is good, however–just as a reimagination of what could have been if any had had the heart to turn away from the spoils of slavery in Dahomey. That’s the way to view it, and it should have a warning on it that it is just such a reimagination.
If you go to Hollywood for your history, that’s your problem, not theirs. – this is the money shot. If people need to know more they can use the supercomputer at the end of their wrists. The movie was well done and quite simply no one wants to see a a documentary at the box office. The African American Community wishes to not see 12 Years A Slave style movies. Sorry to those who want several centuries of history to be redramatized. Hollywood didn’t even want to make this movie. Not sure how much of a formula they would stray from in regard to something that was deemed not a box office draw. So BABY STEPS.