Viola Davis responds to call for boycott of ‘The Woman King’

Oscar winner Viola Davis has responded to critics of her latest film, The Woman King, after they called for the film to be boycotted for not being entirely historically accurate.

The film follows the story of the all-female military unit known as the Agojie that guarded the West African kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

“First of all, I agree [the film’s director] Gina Prince-Bythewood says you won’t win an argument on Twitter,” Davis said of the criticism in an interview with Variety. “We entered history at a crossroads, when the kingdom was in flux. They were looking for a way to keep their civilization and kingdom alive. They were only decimated at the end of the 19th century. Most of the story is fictionalized. It must be.”

Julius Tennon, one of the film’s producers and Davis’ husband, also spoke about the criticism.

“It’s history, but we have to get a license. We have to entertain people. If we just did a history lesson, which we could very well have, it would be a documentary,” Tennon said. “We didn’t want to shy away from the truth. The story is extensive and there are truths about it that are there. If people want to learn more, they can research more.”

The main bone of contention from online critics is that the film seemingly uplifts the woman without fully acknowledging that the Dahomey tribe sold other Africans into slavery.

“Time to boycott the Woman King movie. The film is about Dahomey & Benin who traded slaves to the transatlantic. #BoycottWomanKing“, tweeted @tonetalks. “This may be the most offensive film to black Americans in 40-50 years.”

Twitter user @EqualityEd wrote: “Let’s be honest folks. It’s a film about an African tribe famous for selling slaves to Europeans, made into a story about woman empowerment by two white women writers. You don’t have to be very “awake” to see the problem here. #BoycottWomanKing.”

Dana Stevens and Maria Bello, both white women, are credited as the film’s storywriters.

Others online defended the film.

“Y’all want to boycott a movie that is literally ABOUT what you’re complaining about,” he tweeted @JazminTruesdale. “The film talks about how EVERYONE (including African tribes) was involved in the slave trade and how it specifically affects black women. It’s a masterpiece!”

@lmona823 tweeted: “Not #BoycottWomanKing Instead, learn more. The film explores the horrors of the slave trade and how it affected black women in particular. It doesn’t glorify slavery, it condemns it.”

Historian and Howard University professor Ana Lucia Araujo wrote about the history of the Dahomey in a recent Slate article.

“In 1727, Dahomey conquered the coastal kingdom of Hueda and took control of the port city of Ouidah, opening their active participation in the Atlantean slave trade,” Araujo wrote. “Historians estimate that between 1659 and 1863 nearly a million enslaved Africans were taken to Ouidah on ships bound for America. The port was the second largest supplier of African captives for trade after Luanda in present-day Angola.”

The film’s director, Prince-Bythewood, told the Times that she immersed herself in the history of the Dahomey and reached out to historians for advice.

“I read this article in the Washington Post that was written by a descendant of these women, so we reached out to him,” Prince-Bythewood said of Princeton professor Leonard Wantchekon. “He’s an academic and scholar about Benin and the Kingdom and he’s been such an incredible advisor to us. He has a whole team that we could turn to anytime we had a question about food, clothes, politics in the kingdom… they knew everything.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-09-20/viola-davis-responds-boycott-woman-king Viola Davis responds to call for boycott of ‘The Woman King’

Sarah Ridley

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