Who Is Who in “The Woman King”? A Guide to the Cast and Characters

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Following the premiere of Black Panther in 2018, its stunning landmarks and vibrant culture captured the attention of viewers all around the world. It was an epic tale of an African leader who had the wisdom of a king and the guts of a warrior, despite the fact that it was a superhero movie. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that The Woman King served as a big inspiration for this film because it was the first major motion picture to truly represent the legacies of African history.

Who Is Who in "The Woman King"? A Guide to the Cast and Characters

The Woman King is a powerful action-drama that puts female power front and center at a time when women’s rights are in danger. It is based on the actual history of the Agojie, female warriors who protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey (current-day Benin) from the 1600s until the late 19th century.

With clips of thrilling action scenes and daring women whose gaze would undoubtedly make anyone’s blood curdle, the trailer has already left quite an impact and stirred up a lot of anticipation. The movie is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose earlier works as a filmmaker include Love & Basketball and The Old Guard, and it has a fantastic cast whose performances will take viewers from the dimly lit theater where they are watching it to the mesmerizing vistas of Africa.

Gina Prince-Bythewood, the director, expressed satisfaction in being able to use the cast she chose to present a true story.

“This is a story that’s never been told. It’s a film that we haven’t seen before. Foremost, we wanted to just make a kickass movie that people could enjoy,” Prince-Bythewood said.

“But you’re looking up on screen and seeing characters and women that you don’t normally see in this position. It was really important to the actors to be able to embody characters they haven’t been able to do before. And it just felt safe, and it was joyous, and it was fun to be able to do that,” she added.

The creators

The creators

“The Woman King” has just as much brilliance in front of the camera as it has on screen. With a resume to back her up, director Gina Prince-Bythewood is an unquestionable talent. Prince-Bythewood has created a name for himself in the realm of film in addition to his three decades of writing and directing for television programs including “Felicity,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and “Cloak & Dagger.” She wrote and directed “Love & Basketball,” a cult favourite that served as her feature picture debut. She also co-authored the teen time-loop drama “Before I Fall,” wrote and directed the critically praised period dramas “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Beyond the Lights,” and filmed her first action movie with Netflix’s Charlize Theron comic book.

The screenplay for “The Woman King,” which was mostly written by screenwriter Dana Stevens and was based on a narrative by Stevens and actor and writer Maria Bello, also included Prince-contributions. Bythewood’s (per Vanity Fair). The idea for the film really came from Bello, who asked the audience at the National Women’s History Museum at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in 2015 if they would be interested in seeing Viola Davis play a position similar to that of the real-life general – and yes the audience loved it.

The setting

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Based on real occurrences that occurred in and around the old Kingdom of Dahomey, which is now a part of the West-African Republic of Benin, “The Woman King” is about a female monarch. From around 1600 to 1904, the Kingdom was in existence for more than 300 years, and throughout that time, it thrived largely as a result of its military might and diplomatic ties with major European nations. Dahomey was well-positioned to take advantage of the then-booming slave trade thanks in part to its military might and access to a region of the Gulf of Guinea known as the Slave Coast.

Dahomey is a fascinating historical location due to the fact that, when it existed, it was the only absolute monarchy in all of Africa. The monarch, played by John Boyega as King Ghezo in the movie, wielded total, uncontested power inside his realm, and his final choices were only susceptible to the sway of his royal court of advisers. Dahomey developed into a major player in the regional slave trade under the rule of Ghezo (also spelled Gezo and Gezu) and his predecessor, King Agaja. This contributed to the country’s political heyday and ultimately brought about its decline when the United Kingdom outlawed the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The plot

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The narrative centers on Nanisca, the commander of the Agojie, often known as the Dahomey Amazons by the Europeans, and her daughter Nawi, an aspirant recruit. They “fought together against adversaries that violated their honor, enslaved their people, and threatened to destroy all they’ve lived for” (via Deadline).

Nawi and Nanisca are probably made-up characters that are based on actual persons. Teenage recruit Nanisca was given the name of the Amazons in 1889. (per the Smithsonian Magazine). When she passed away in 1979, a woman by the name of Nawi was believed to be the final Amazon still alive. She claimed that in 1892, during the Second Franco-Dahomey War, she had battled the French. It is unclear how much of “The Woman King’s” inspiration came from these specific women, but judging by the trailers and storyline summary, it is reasonable to assume that their struggle against European colonizers would be central to the story.

Surprisingly, Dahomey’s slave trade was one of its most well-known businesses in antiquity. Dahomey troops had a continual stream of prisoners via conquest since their empire was based on fighting, and many of them were traded to European slavers. It is unknown if this plays a role in “The Woman King’s” storyline.

The Woman King and feminism

Demand for female-led action movies has grown over the past several decades. This makes “The Woman King” a pretty notable release, in addition to a few other elements. “The Woman King” has an above-average potential for female empowerment and a distinctive feminist story because to its foundation in real, historical female warriors and its outstanding, nearly completely female ensemble.

Gina Prince-Bythewood spoke to Vanity Fair on the feminist aspect of the women warriors and said,

“I grew up an athlete. The women around me were athletes. … Aggression is good. Leave it all out on the floor. And as I got older, it surprised me how few women had the advantage of growing up like that. That innate warrior that I believe we all have is dormant in so many women because it wasn’t encouraged or valued.”

Likewise, Viola Davis also expounded on her character’s importance to Empire, saying, “I think it’s very hard to train a group of young women to suck up their vulnerability in order to fight. … To dig deep and find that warrior spirit that understands you have to fight for something bigger than yourself.”  Prince-Bythewood added, “We wanted to show these women as whole women. Their vulnerability was as important as their fierceness, and they had an incredible sisterhood.”

The Woman King and Black empowerment

The significance of “The Woman King” to people of color is at least just as essential as its significance to women, according to both Viola Davis and Gina Prince-Bythewood. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Davis, who not only plays Nanisca but also contributed to producing the movie, said the part was “transformative,” adding, “There’s always a vision you have for your career, but there are very few roles as an actress of color. Dark skin with a wide nose and big lips. I’m just gonna continue to say it. Those stories are extraordinarily limited.” She and Prince-Bythewood expressed anxiety and excitement over being able to expose audiences to a part of African history that had until now not been seen on the big screen.

The Trailer

The official trailer for “The Woman King” demonstrates in less than two and a half minutes that the buzz around the movie is legit and that Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis, and others are earnest when they make their promises.

As the Agojie warriors in the video demonstrate, Prince-Bythewood emphasized that the genuine Agojie didn’t need to be gilded or polished and should instead seem true and visceral and raw (via Vanity Fair). The Agojie in the “The Woman King” trailer undoubtedly kick ass, and we get hints of Davis’ character’s leadership and training regimen. Spears fly, machete-wielding ladies leap over one another, and the action appears gritty and realistic.

But the trailer shows more than just fighting. With a battle against the Europeans looming, the appearance of Hero Fiennes Tiffin’s character, Santo Ferreira, a European, and John Boyega’s King Ghezo hints the film may feature deeper, more complex political issues. Throughout, hints of a passionate kiss and Nawi’s guidance convey sincere, real feeling. The movie “The Woman King” looks to be as entertaining as it is fierce and educational, which is arguably the most encouraging information to be garnered from the teaser.

Their intense training

Davis underwent rigorous training to imitate the Agojie’s almost superhuman level of physical fitness, as did her co-stars Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, and Sheila Atim, as well as director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Davis enumerated the workout for a normal day: “Three hours of martial arts a day … and hour and a half of weights, [and] sprinting.”

Training with other weapons, such as swordplay with machetes and spear warfare, was also part of the curriculum. The actors all agreed that despite how demanding their workouts and weaponry training were, they were able to stick together, much like the strong warrior women’s squad in the movie.

Gabriela Mclain, a celebrity fitness expert and dietitian, carefully customized each cast member’s routine to get the best outcomes possible.

As she told People, “I actually did DNA testing on … Viola, Thuso, Lashana, Sheila, and Adrienne … which helped me pretty much figure out the best way to train.” She added, “I wanted them to gain muscle. So they were eating five meals a day, every three hours … and each of them had a different nutritional plan, which I designed.”

Viola Davis as General Nansica

General Nansica, the ferocious leader of the Agojie, an all-female army, is portrayed by Viola Davis. As their nation confronts a grave threat of European invasion, she must train the young warriors who will make up the next generation.

Talking about the role at the Toronto International Film Festival, she said “It feels right. It feels like it made my life. It feels like my coming feels like it’s my coming out party. It’s my debutante ball. I always knew I was Nanisca.”

Thuso Mbedu as Nawi

Thuso Mbedu portrays Nawi, a bright young woman who has just been enlisted in the army and is in need of training to become a real fighter. She is a South African actress who has been nominated for and won several accolades for some of her breathtaking performances. She was nominated for an international Emmy for her main role in the South African television drama Is’Thunzi, but The Underground Railroad, an award-winning Amazon Original Series, is where she is arguably best known.

John Boyega as King Ghezo

In the movie, John Boyega plays the real-life King Ghezo, whose turbulent rule over the Kingdom of Dahomey spanned the years 1818 to 1859. In contrast to Davis’ demeanor, he appears to be too apprehensive about defending his kingdom because he worries that they might have to go to war.

Boyega is a Nigerian-born British actor who is most known for his roles in Attack the Block, Pacific Rim, Detroit, and the Star Wars prequels. Boyega has amassed a substantial body of work, making him one of the most gifted young performers of his time.

Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Santo Ferreira

Hero Fiennes Tiffin plays Santo Ferreira. He is well known for his roles as Hardin Scott in After and After We Collided, as well as a juvenile Tom Riddle in Harry and the Half-Blood Prince. He is a young guy from Europe who comes to Africa as part of its colonization, and he will probably serve as the story’s main adversary.

Lashana Lynch as Izogie

Rosaline Capulet in the ABC miniseries Still Star-Crossed, Maria Rambeau in the MCU’s Captain Marvel, and most recently as the new agent 007 in the James Bond film No Time To Die are among British actress Lashana Lynch’s most famous roles. Lynch will portray Izogie, one of the Agojie, in The Woman King. Along with The Woman, King Lynch will also appear as Vanessa Redgrave’s co-star in the forthcoming Marlene Van Niekerk novel adaptation The Outside Room.

Jayme Lawson

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – MARCH 15: Jayme Lawson attends the Alexander McQueen AW22 Runway Show at Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 15, 2022 in Brooklyn City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Alexander McQueen)

Former Juilliard student Jayme Lawson is arguably most recognized for her roles as Bella Real, the candidate for mayor of Gotham City, in Farewell Amor and the more recent The Batman. Lawson will portray King Ghezo’s wife in the movie The Woman King, which stars John Boyega.

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