The Woman King is a 2022 American fiction historical action drama film about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries. Set in the 1820s, the film stars Viola Davis as a general who trains the next generation of warriors to fight their enemies. I am going to however, start of my review with a little bit of history about the Agojie so that the readers can separate the fact from fiction, most importantly that no woman general was crowned as the “Woman King” during the reign of Ghezo.

The Agojie or the Dahomey Amazons were the only female army in modern history and were given the name Amazons by Western Europeans who encountered them, based on the story of the female warriors of Amazons in Greek mythology. Ghezo (King of the Dahomey from 1818 to 1859) recruited both men and women as soldiers from foreign captives. Female soldiers were also recruited from free Dahomean women, with some enrolled from as young as eight years of age. Membership among the Agojie was supposed to hone any aggressive character traits for the purpose of war. During their membership they were not allowed to have children or be part of married life (though they were legally married to the king). Many of them were virgins. The Agojie trained with intense physical exercise. They learned survival skills and indifference to pain and death, storming acacia-thorn defences in military exercises and executing prisoners. Discipline was emphasized throughout the Agojie. Serving in the Agojie offered women the opportunity to rise to positions of command and influence.

The movie begins in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823, where General Nanisca, leader of the all-female group of warriors, the Agojie, liberates Dahomean women who were abducted by slavers from the Oyo Empire. This provokes King Ghezo of Dahomey to prepare for an all-out war with the Oyo. Nanisca begins to train a new generation of warriors to join the Agojie to protect the kingdom. Among these warriors is Nawi, a strong-willed girl who was offered by her father to the king after refusing to marry men who would beat her. Nawi befriends Izogie, a veteran Agojie. She also reveals to Nanisca that she is adopted and shows a scar on her left shoulder, shocking Nanisca.

Portuguese slave traders led by Santo Ferreira and accompanied by the half-Dahomean Malik arrive as part of an alliance with the Oyo, led by General Oba Ade. Nawi encounters Malik while the latter is bathing, and the two become friends. Shortly after graduating from training to become a full-fledged Agojie, Nawi sneaks off to speak with Malik and learns that the Oyo are planning to attack. She reports this to Nanisca, who tells her off for her recklessness. Nanisca reveals that in her youth, she was captured by Oba, raped, and impregnated. After giving birth to a daughter, Nanisca embedded a shark tooth in her left shoulder before giving her away. Nanisca helps Nawi extract the tooth, confirming that she is her biological daughter.

Nanisca leads the Agojie in an attack on the Oyo. The attack is successful, but Oba escapes and Nawi, Fumbe and Izogie are captured. With Nawi’s advice, Fumbe escapes and reports the others’ fate to Nanisca. Ghezo prepares to bestow the title of Woman King, his partner and equal in ruling Dahomey, upon Nanisca, but refuses to authorize a rescue mission for the captive Agojie. Meanwhile, Izogie is killed in an escape attempt and Malik buys Nawi to protect her. Nanisca defies orders and sets out with a group of like-minded warriors to rescue the captives. The chaos allows Nawi to escape and rejoin Nanisca. Malik frees several other slaves who drown Ferreira, and Nanisca kills Oba in single combat. The triumphant Agojie return to Dahomey, where Ghezo privately and briefly admonishes Nanisca for disobeying him, before crowning her the Woman King. After the festivities, Nanisca and Nawi privately acknowledge their familial relationship.

Alright so we covered the plot. Let us now see what works for the film and what does not. Viola Davis as General Nanisca is brilliant. John Boyega as King Ghezo is not. He portrays Ghezo as effeminate and a weak leader who is dependent on Nanisca for his success whereas historically it was not so. Perhaps the director needed to make the King effeminate to enhance the sense of awe around the fictional character of Nanisca. Perhaps it is just one of the several subtle attacks of masculinity in the wake of “#metoo”. Anyways, the fictional General Nanisca is portrayed by Viola Davis really well. She brings a sense of authority and believability to the character. She is also an actress who can portray emotions really well. Thuso Mbedu is another success as Nawi, a young Agojie and Nanisca’s daughter. She plays her part to perfection and has a strong screen presence. Sheila Atim and Lashana Lynch play the androgynous Agojie Amenza and Izogie quite well, although, they were probably chosen due to their distinct masculine features and lack of feminity which would suit the Agojie well.

The action sequences are well crafted and the cultural features of the Dahomey Kingdom along with the training rituals of the Agojie are captured well. The story keeps you invested though is let down by the poorly portrayed male characters.


An entertaining movie, which looks at an ignored historical women-dominated fighting army, held together by the brilliant Viola Davis.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: