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The Woman King: celebrating the powerful Dahomey Agojie

12 January 2024

The Woman King paid tribute to the Dahomey Agojie, the only known female military regiment in history.  The warriors built a reputation for being brave and fierce, trained to fight and protect the Dahomey king and the kingdom, without fear of death. Even though modern history overlooked their accomplishments, it is movies like The Woman King that remind us that the Dahomey Agojie embodied the strength and power of African women.

SPOILER ALERTS! The 2022 movie features a nearly all-black cast in The Woman King. The lead character is Oscar-winning American actress, Viola Davis, who plays the role of the fictional Dahomey Agojie General, Nanisca. Nanisca served King Ghezo, who ruled the Dahomey Kingdom from 1818 to 1858. The role of the young King Ghezo is played by Golden Globe winner, John Boyega, who is of Nigerian descent. King Ghezo ended Dahomey's subordinated relationship with the more powerful Oyo Empire, which is central to the movie’s plot. He then elevates Nanisca to the title role.

The Dahomey Agojie: friends and enemies

Nigerian actor, Oluwajimi Jimmy Odukoya, plays Nanisca’s nemesis, who captured and raped Nanisca when she was a young Dahomey Agojie. The trauma of seeing her nemesis and coming to terms with her past are secondary plot lines. Sheila Atim, who is of Ugandan descent, plays Amenza, Nanisca’s confidant and a dream-interpreter. Four-time Grammy winner, Angelique Kidgo, who is from Benin, plays the role of Meunon (see our July 2021 article Angélique Kidjo flying high with new album).

South African actress Thuso Mbuso (see our August 2021 article Thuso Mbedu wins Hollywood TV Breakout Star award) is Nawi, a new recruit whose bravery and defiance separates her from her peers. Nawi is one of the few characters based on a real-life Agojie - the real Nawi passed away in 1979. Other South Africans include: Masali Baduza, Sivuyile Ngesi, Makgotso Monyemorathoe, Thando Dlomo and Miss Universe 2019, Zozibini Tunzi. 

The movie addresses the role the Dahomey played in the Atlantic Slave trade and explores the partnership with the Portuguese. However, the movie missed an opportunity to spotlight the role that Francisco Félix de Sousa, a Brazilian who migrated to Dahomey to trade in slaves, gold and palm oil, played in the coup that brought King Ghezo to power.

Dahomey Agojie: real-life Amazons

Filming of The Woman King took place in South Africa, in the city of Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal province (KZN). The production of the movie was delayed for several weeks after the Covid-19 pandemic started and forced a global shutdown. It grossed $94m at the box-office which is in sharp contrast to the $823m made by the 2017 movie, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman tells the story of a fictional Amazon princess called Diana from Themyscira who is sent to protect mankind from the world war. According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were female warriors created by the Olympian gods to protect mankind. When Europeans first encountered the Dahomey Agojie, they named them the real-life Amazons.

The Woman King has been available on Netflix since February 2023. Please watch it to learn more about these incredible female warriors from Africa.

Key takeaways

  • The film celebrates the significance of African history, culture, and female valour. The film presents a rich tapestry of African traditions that showcase the continent's diversity and heritage in a beautiful and poignant manner. The film's creators use stunning visual imagery to bring the story to life on screen. The use of vivid colors and rich textures evokes a sense of authenticity and provides viewers with a glimpse into African culture. 
  • The portrayal of the Dahomey Agojie highlights the powerful role of female warriors in African history. Their legacy lives on through the women who continue to fight for equality and recognition in our modern world. By celebrating the Dahomey Agojie, we celebrate the resilience and perseverance of all African women. The film serves as an inspiration for future generations of women, encouraging them to embrace their strength and fortitude, and strive towards their ambitions and goals. The film is a tribute to the strong and powerful African women who embody ideals of leadership, courage, and perseverance. It serves as a reminder that women's empowerment and female valor are essential for a better future. 
  • The movie contributes to the growth and recognition of African cinematic excellence.