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Black America Debates ‘The Woman King’ Film And Whether Heroes Can Come From Dahomey Slave Traders


Academy Award winner Viola Davis’ new film, “The Woman King,” is stirring up controversy, and it has yet to open.

The film, which opens on Sept. 16, is based on the real-life all-women Agojie warriors who defended the West African kingdom Dahomey during the 18th and 19th centuries. Dahomey is present-day Benin.

The film was directed by a Black female director as well, Gina Prince-Bythewood.

The controversy kicks in when you look at the history of the Dahomey empire.

The western African kingdom was formed by a mixture of various local ethnic groups, according to Black History Month. Dahomey became a major regional power in the 1720s when it conquered other coastal kingdoms and this led to it being a major center in the Atlantic Slave Trade until 1852 when the British imposed a naval blockade to stop the trade.

But before the blockade, Dahomey had grown rich on the slave trade. It prospered from the sale of slaves to the Europeans, Britannica reported. Slaves were either sold to the Europeans in exchange for weapons or kept to work the royal plantations.

Many called out the film on Twitter.

Investigative journalist Nicole Hannah-Jones, author of “The 1619 Project,” tweeted, “It will be interesting to see how a movie that seems to glorify the all-female military unit of the Dahomey deals with the fact that this kingdom derived its wealth from capturing Africans for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

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“The movie is about the French invasion of Dahomey & the female warriors who fought to the death defending their homeland. Why do y’all want it to be about the slave trade? The slave trade had been long abolished by then,” Great House tweeted.

Many have trouble reconciling the empire’s slave history with the fact that it stars a Black woman leading a female case about a story about Black women.

“But can we have one moment in time where black women are socking it to yt dudes in film? We’ve got a frog princess movie, Black Panther… 30 years a Slave/Amistad Genre, and Not Another Yt Savoir movie genre?” asked Dr. Rev. Apryl Shade, 90 day PhD.

NicholasNickleby replied, “So regardless of the actual history of these women you wanna see the movie because it makes you FEEL empowered to see them beat up on the same individuals they once traded our people too? Is that correct?”

Some plan on boycotting the film. “The Dahomey captured black women and children to sell them into slavery. I will #Boycott the glorification of the evil enterprise that was chattel slavery,” tweeted Mrs. Haskill.

Benin, too, is struggling with his history.

“The tensions are still there,” Ana Lucia Araujo, a professor of history at Howard University who has spent years researching Benin’s role in the slave trade, told The Washington Post. “In the past, the country had a hard time telling the story of the victims of the slave trade. Instead, many initiatives commemorated those who enslaved them.”

Photo: Viola Davis, star of “The Woman King” film (TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

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