See The Woman King in Theaters and Support the Future of Female-Made Movies
It’s great for what it is and does and for who made it.
Regardless of what anyone thinks, The Woman King is an important, groundbreaking movie that is leading the way for more female-made movies (I hope).
I'm not even kidding--this movie was directed, shot, and written by women and it stars more women of color in a movie than I think I've ever seen in any other movie ever.
We all need to see it because less well made movies made by men, about men, have made plenty of money.
The good news is, The Woman King is off to a good start!
What's almost as impressive as The Woman King getting made at all is that it made $19 million in its opening weekend. For this time of year, a film made by women, starring women of color, making that much money disproves what Hollywood has been saying and doing for decades—that movies by women about women won't sell tickets and get both male and female butts in seats and therefore not letting those movies get made.
The Woman King has a 94 score on RottenTomatoes.com and its audience score is 99.
Hollywood may go back to sleep after this but this is definitely a wake up call to any of the dinosaurs out there who think 1) women can't make a movie most people will want to see or 2) that movies featuring women and/or women of color can only be rooted in stereotypes. To me, it suggests that the Entertainment Industry has been missing out on a TON of money for decades, if not most of the last century, by not letting filmmakers of color and women, in general, make movies (I mean, duh, of course they were, but now we have proof!). People will say something like "America wasn't ready for this in the past" but the reality is, whether they know it or not, people are always ready to be led into the future if there is a leader willing to lead.
Regardless, The Woman King proves that movie goers are down for women/of color movies.
What I think Works in The Woman King (spoiler free)
The story, the cinematography, and the acting in particular, all work very well. Viola Davis is probably going to get an Oscar and it wouldn't surprise me if one of her supporting costars gets one, as well. This film was written for strong actors who can bite into a scene and not let go.
Also, it was an absolute joy to see so many people of color go through so many emotions--many of them positive! When do you ever see black people allowed to be happy in a movie? It's great to see it happening more and more these days. Questlove said he made the documentary Summer of Soul, in part, to portray "black joy" and despite the war story that The Woman King is, there is more joy portrayed than you might think.
What I think Doesn't Work in The Woman King (spoiler free)
I felt the music, while beautiful and moving during the film, didn’t really stick with me. My wife had to remind me of how powerful it was. So obviously, I think the score works fine, but not to a level where I wanted to immediately get the soundtrack on my phone.
I also feel like we could have had a better sense of space and time. I’ve never heard of Dahomey and while I can find western Africa on a map (I went to college, after all!), saying Dahomey is in western Africa doesn’t nail it down enough for me. Likewise, I had no idea where the slave trading city on the water was. There was also the enemy camp. In short, I just didn’t know where any of the locations were in relation to any place else. Also, I have no idea how much time passed. Most movies these days ignore the passage of time, so like the score, it’s not a huge complaint. It just helps build the world when we know this stuff.
There’s only one thing I feel was really worth criticizing in this film and it should not stop you from seeing it anyway:
I can't remember how deep I was into the film when I first realized it but the film feels a lot like other historical war dramas--to the point where I could see where things were going pretty clearly and quickly. That doesn’t make the movie bad—sometimes predictability makes a story more relatable—more like a fable. The could be the case here, with that 99 audience score at Rotten Tomatoes.
There were also moments where the dialogue was so on-the-nose it was distracting. It was like the screenwriter slipped and wrote dialog stating the subtext of the scene by accident. Or, worse, the writer thought her audience would need the themes of the movie spelled out.
Each of the main characters has a character arc but I feel like each one was oversimplified and lost a lot of the power it could have had if the screenwriter had dug deeper. There was one character who had pretty strong screen presence and a descent amount of screen time only to die without us really knowing her at all.
All of this said, none of it really matters.
I’ve seen hundreds of movies that I’ve had these same criticisms about—some were bad movies and some were still good. As I said above, this movie is groundbreaking. It brings so much innovation in the form of the people who made it and the story that they had the guts to tell. What I'm talking about is that women did this thing. They did a thing that men have been doing for decades—both in the story and out—waging war and making historical war movies about men waging war.
And that's why it felt like other films that have come before—but it is so much more because women finally got to take a turn being the stars in front of and behind the camera.
I really hope the industry will allow these and other women to take more turns because this story and others that focus on roles about people who happen to be women are what the planet Earth needs. Movie goers need to see that movies don't always have to be about white men to be good or worth viewing and movies about women and/or people of color don't need to be rooted in their stereotypes (as in, black people starring in movies about gangs, rap music, or basketball players or women always being portrayed as people in relation to the men in their lives).
No, I'm Not Going to Tell you "How I'd" have Written The Woman King
Usually I like to write a synopsis or even a full breakdown of "How I'd" have written a thing. In this case, I already gave a nutshell of it, above (smaller nutshell: I'd have a stronger focus on character arcs, keep the subtext sub, and include more surprises). I'm also not interested in breaking the film down more with a spoiler section. If you've seen a good war movie, you know the story of this film but you haven't seen this movie. It’s got black women in it. LOTS of black women in it. If there is another war movie with this many women of color in it, I want to see it. Seriously. Tell me the title!
Obviously, no film is perfect but is The Woman King entertaining?
Should you see it?
You should buy your tickets now.
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