The “King Woman” and its historical roots

The Hollywood movie “The Woman King” honors the soldiers of the African kingdom of Dahomey, who have just entered western pop culture as legendary Ajuji warriors. The film in Benin today is accompanied by applause. A colossal statue of the Amazon was also recently unveiled at the Government House in Benin, Cotonou City. But the historical background differs from the film’s narrative.

The Kingdom of Dahomey is in grave danger. That’s what Nanesca does (Viola Davis(Young King Gezo)John Boyega) in “woman kinginsistently clear. In the Abome Palace – The palaces, which are located in present-day Benin in West Africa, are part of the UNESCO World Heritage – the general explained that fighters from the neighboring kingdom of Oyo abducted the women. They should be sold as slaves. Portuguese slave traders are already waiting at Ouida port. On the other hand, King Gezo and General Nanska want to fend for themselves. The prisoners will be released and the whole region proves that Dahomey is a powerful kingdom that pays no tribute to anyone. Nanisca must recruit new soldiers for this, women of all things, such as Oyo General Oba Ade (Jimmy Udkoya) They scoff: “In Dahomey they have no men. There the women have to fight.”

The plot looks like a new Hollywood cinema, but it is based on a true story. The Agojie, Minon, or Amazons, as the Dahomey soldiers were called, were already there. From the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, they repelled the attacks of other countries and finally fought against the French colonial forces. In 1899 Dahomey became part of French West Africa. The last king, Béhanzin, went into exile in Martinique.

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Agogi legends

There are all kinds of myths about the Amazon. They are said to have no children and were not allowed to marry. In “The Woman King” they are portrayed as brave fighters. Likewise, the young man Nawi (Thoso Mbedo) become part of the army. Her father gave her as a gift to King Gezo because she refused to marry a violent but rich old man. To be accepted by the Agojie, she and the other women complete combat training in which they have to climb over high wooden walls and make their way through thorny bushes. In the end there is recognition of the king and a sense of community and belonging among the women. Even before the big fight against Oyo, they are already heroines.

The Agojie Army in “The Woman King” (© CTMG/Sony Pictures Ent. Germany, Ilze Kitshoff)

This evokes scenes of dancing to the music of the American trumpeter Terence Blanchard Consists. The only Beninese voice, world famous singer Angélique Kidjo, can be heard in his songs. boss Jenna Prince BythewoodAmerican, as is the product Maria Bello. She visited Benin in 2015 and was so infatuated with Agojie that she totally wanted to make a movie about her. In Benin, people have been very curious to see if of all things Hollywood is able to adequately implement the story of the Women’s Army.

The movie “The Woman King” is a surprising success and is considered a contender for the “Oscar”; However, the film has nothing to do with historical reality. The women’s army was probably created out of sheer necessity, as men fell into wars and were captured by the soldiers of the Oyo kingdom.

Beneficiaries of human trafficking

The reading that King Gezo and the people of Dahomey fought slavery also does not correspond to the actual date. The state was a centrally organized absolute monarchy. Slaves were forced into forced labor on the plantations of Dahomey or were exchanged with Europeans in exchange for weapons. That only changed when Great Britain banned the international slave trade in the mid-19th century. By that time, the Dahomey kings were also beneficiaries of human trafficking.

However, the film puts an end to one cliché: it shows a fully organized African state, and in General Nanska, a woman demanding absolute discipline and acting on her own authority. The Amazons successfully fought against Oyo, but they managed to capture Naoi and a number of other soldiers. Against the express orders of King Gezo, who wanted to give General Nanska the title of “Woman King” for her successes, she moved to Oweida to liberate the women.

Thoso Mbedo as Nawi (© CTMG / Sony Pictures Entertainment Deutschland GmbH, Ilze Kitshoff)
Thoso Mbedo as Nawi (© CTMG / Sony Pictures Ent. Germany, Ilze Kitshoff)

This is also a must: Viola Davis Finally, as an army commander, she also allows for feelings and is more than just a hard-hitting soldier. Also unsurprisingly, a love story emerged between Nawi and Malik. He accompanies a Portuguese slave trader to Aweidah and says, “My mother is from Dahomey.”

Black women are heroines

Especially blockbuster movies.black panthers(2018), in which Agojie actually worked as a model for female bodyguard Dora Milaje, paved the way for ‘The Woman King’. The film fits with the current debate in American cinema about diversity, new protagonists, and different narrative styles. “It’s practically the first time we’ve seen black women in such strong leadership roles,” says Floriane Deguignon. she is a managerOlympia Channel“, the only cinema in Cotonou, Benin’s economic metropolis. Almost all shows of The Woman King have been sold out since mid-September.

But the film also fits well with the current debate in Benin about its colonial past, identity and sense of community. It was created nearly a year ago when France brought back art looted from the Kingdom of Dahomey. Among the restored objects are a wooden half-human, half-bird statue of King Gezu and a wooden throne used for special occasions such as memorials to ancestors. More than a quarter of a million visitors saw the artifacts in the exhibition.

For literature professor Nourienyi Tijani Serbos, who was deputy director of the Africa Department at UNESCO until 2010, it is clear that “awareness of the country’s history is growing”. The former Kingdom of Dahomey constituted only about 20 percent of the area of ​​present-day Benin. However, the memory unites the country. In many other African countries, this is anything but normal, as many nations are divided along ethnic and religious lines.

‘Black Panther’ paved the way for ‘The Woman King’ (© Walt Disney)

Amazon Monument

But not only “The Woman King” is a tribute to Agojie. On August 1, the 62nd anniversary of Benin’s independence, President Patrice Talon inaugurated a 30-meter-high tower. statue One, which also shows Amazon. The character stands in a prominent position in Cotonou, diagonally opposite the Presidential Palace. According to Talon, the Amazon represents courage, bravery, strength as well as a willingness to defend the country.

Despite the subject, which is unusual for Hollywood, “The Woman King” uses many cliches. The story does not take any sudden turns, as the split into good and evil becomes clear after a few minutes and is not broken. But at the Cotonou screenings, the film received frequent applause. This is mainly due to the portrayal of Viola Davis and the fact that highly esteemed warriors have made it onto screens all over the world.

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