Oscar-winners Lupita Nyong'o and Viola Davis are joining forces for The Woman King, a movie inspired by the real life all-female African military unit known as the Amazons. The pair won their Best Supporting Actress Oscars for their respective performances in the dramas 12 Years a Slave and Fences, and have both made the jump to the world of comic book movies with Black Panther and Suicide Squad. However, The Woman King will mark the first big screen collaboration between the pair.
Based on a screen story written by celebrated character actor Maria Bello (A History of Violence, Lights Out), The Woman King is based on true events that took place in the Kingdom of Dahomey. A powerful African state that existed from about 1600-1894, the Kingdom of Dahomey faced major attacks from not only the French but also its neighboring tribes throughout its time. Davis is starring in the film as General Nanisca (the leader of the Kingdom of Dahomey's Amazons), with Nyong'o costarring as Nanisca's daughter Nawi.
TriStar Pictures has acquired The Woman King for worldwide distribution, with TriStar president Hannah Minghella calling the story by Bello "a powerful true story of an extraordinary mother-daughter relationship". The real-life Amazons helped inspire the fictional all-female warrior troops featured in the Black Panther franchise (aka. the Dora Milaje), and were named after the Amazons of mythology by westerners. Minghella further encourages comparisons between The Woman King and Black Panther with her larger statement, where she name-drops the Marvel superhero film as an example of what this project is going for:
“‘Black Panther’ just showed us how the power of imagination and lore could reveal a world without gender and racial stereotypes. The Woman King’ will tell one of history’s greatest forgotten stories from the real world in which we live, where an army of African warrior women staved off slavery, colonialism and inter-tribal warfare to unify a nation.”
The runaway critical and commercial success of Black Panther has no doubt helped The Woman King to gain forward momentum, and will hopefully continue to encourage greater diversity in the types of stories that get told on the big screen, for years to come. Nyong'o and Davis, for their parts, are similarly getting the chance to tackle a wide variety of roles now, in everything from historical dramas to pop genre movies. Their involvement with The Woman King makes for a cherry atop the sundae, in that sense.
It doesn't sound as though The Woman King has a director attached yet, and the hope is that a woman of color will ultimately be recruited to call the shots on the film. While there are valid concerns about studios pigeonholing people of color into only working on projects featuring non-white characters, having a woman of color direct The Woman King should help to instill the movie with a greater sense of authenticity. Studio projects from non-white female directors are rare in general (with something like next week's A Wrinkle in Time being the exception that proves the rule), so that's all the more for The Woman King to buck the trend.
We will bring you more details on The Woman King as they become available.
Source: TriStar Pictures [via Variety]