The Woman King is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and stars Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega. The film tells the story of an all-female military unit that protects an African kingdom from a rival tribe who have joined forces with white slavers. The film also charts the recruitment of a young girl joining this military unit, which allows the audience to understand the tribe’s culture and the women who lead its defenses.
As the lead general, Viola Davis gives one of the most committed performances of her amazing multi-Oscar-winning career. Davis embodies the tank-like physicality of this character at the same time that the plot uncovers some deep vulnerabilities. Hers is a nuanced, virtuoso performance from one of the great actresses working in film.
But for all that’s the case, the real star is relative newcomer Thuso Mbedu who is The Woman King’s emotional heart. My personal front-runner for 2022’s Best Supporting Actress award, Mbedu shines through the emotional and physical rigors of this demanding film. Mbedu is able to embody a long, complex character arc, and the performance is simply phenomenal.
The Woman King is a glorious film. It’s made with vitality and a proud energy. Historically, most films about Africa have a white protagonist, but The Woman King feels more authentic, like a story told by those who lived it. Prince-Bythewood’s direction is subtle when it needs to be, gut-wrenching in parts, and always dignified. Pay attention to what she doesn’t show, how the atrocities portrayed never debase the characters.
One of the year’s best films so far, The Woman King is a must-see and an early awards contender.