Viola Davis rules in 'The Woman King'

An all-female army, called the Agojie, defends their West African kingdom in The Woman King.

From the moment she appears on the screen — rising up from tall grasses while leading an all-female army into battle — Viola Davis owns The Woman King, a movie every bit as majestic and monumental as its title implies.

Davis plays Nanisca, the ferocious, forbidding general of the Agojie, the legendary female fighting force that helped defend the West African kingdom of Dahomey. Set in 1823, The Woman King spins a fictional tale rooted in the real-life Dahomey Amazons who were among the most feared warriors of the era. In this stirring tale, written by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens, Nanisca fights not only external foes — the Oyo Empire intent on destroying the reign of Dahomey’s King Ghezo (John Boyega)— but her own country’s involvement in the transatlantic trade of enslaved people, which its supporters see as a way for Africans to benefit from commerce but which she sees as a “dark circle,” entrapping her people in cycles of violence, oppression, and self-hatred.

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