Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Adrienne Warren, and Thuso Mbedu, The Woman King hits theaters on September 16. The film will tell the story of the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit who protected the African kingdom of Dahomey from its enemies in the 19th century.
Ahead of the movie’s release, the stars sat down with ESSENCE to talk about the film, how it renews a sense of pride and purpose for Black women, and how it uncovers and reframes a significant chapter in West African history.
Viola Davis on not believing The Woman King could happen:
“The important part of this story is –I’m saying this now because it’s been almost eight years — I would say at the time it didn’t hit me. Not the story. The story hit me. The possibility of the story seeing light did not hit me,” Davis shares. “I think that’s important to say, because we are sort of thrust into this business. We’re sort of thrust in the world too, but that’s a whole different conversation. But we’re thrust in the business automatically assuming that something is not going to happen if it’s never been done before. There’s not going to be any support, no one’s going to want to do it, no studio’s going to give it the green light vote, and who would want to see me like that? And so I personally dropped it in my mind until Kathy Schulman came with the script by Dana Stevens and I was like, ‘Oh, okay.'”
Lashana Lynch on the impact this film will have on her life:
“Genuinely, I’m just really grateful that all of my experiences and all of the no’s and all of the complications and all of the ‘We’re going with a white girl, a lighter girl, a short girl, a more experienced girl–’ we’ll go with all of those girls because they, aesthetically, make more sense than the tall, Black, curvy, short-haired, dark skin girl from London who doesn’t dot her i’s and cross her t’s all the time, and who has opinions [got me here]. I cannot comprehend how this is going to reverberate throughout our lives. Let alone throughout the world. The world is one thing, but in our lives there’s something that we can have forever.”
Sheila Atim on working with Black women across the diaspora:
“I personally felt so enriched by being able to work with people who weren’t Black British or even who were Black British but have a different heritage from me, for us to all be in the same place. I learned from everyone and I hope that people learned from me as well. I think that’s a huge part, what we are able to do for people outside of ourselves. And there’s also what we are able to do to each other, first and foremost, before we then present what we created.”
Adrienne Warren on the sisterhood that was birthed out of this film:
“Our togetherness is resistance. We are so much stronger together. I didn’t know I had sisters in places. That’s how it felt being on this set. My sisters have multiplied. And the beauty in that, and the beauty in what we have learned from each other because of our individual lived experiences, and the beauty that we present when we come together, we present what the world has never seen before. They love, they meaning the system, meaning everything else out there, loves to divide us, because if you divide us, then you can conquer us. Try to penetrate us. You won’t because we have been through so much, and because in each and every way, we’re not superheroes, we’re actually warriors. We’re Black women.”
Thuso Mbedu on Gina Prince-Bythewood and Viola Davis believing in her:
“My biggest takeaway is that I really am stronger than I think or believe or allow myself to be. And that there is a greatness that you saw that I have not been allowed to see in myself that I need to take in. I thank you for seeing me. Because even now I don’t think I see myself.”
Check out the full interview here.
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