The Woman King – Movie

The Woman King
The Woman King (Movie)

The Woman King is an American -Canadian film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and released in 2022. It premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. The film recounts the exploits of the Agojie (nicknamed by Europeans the “Amazons of Dahomey”) in the kingdom of Dahomey in 1823.

Full summary

In 1823, the Kingdom of Dahomey came under attack from the threatening ambitions of its more powerful neighbor, the Kingdom of Oyo, to which it had to pay an annual tribute. Moreover, the wealth of Dahomey is partly based on the trade in slaves captured from neighboring populations, a vicious circle that weakens all the African kingdoms.

Dahomey has a unit of female warriors, the Agojie. Following a Pyrrhic victory that cost the lives of many warriors, General Nanisca trains a new generation of women, including Nawi. Nawi is an orphan, but she doesn’t get along with her adoptive parents. She has just refused to marry a much older suitor who was threatening to beat her. Furious, her father presents Nawi to the king and leaves her at the palace.

Nawi then discovers the daily life of the Agojie, who form an exclusively female elite regime where celibacy is the rule. They live in the king’s palace, of which they constitute the close guard. Accompanied by two other young girls, Nawi learns to train thanks to the advice of a more experienced warrior, Izogie.

Nawi notably learns from Izogie that she is an orphan and has been adopted. She has a mark on her left shoulder. When Nanisca realizes this, she seems affected. Over time, Nawi struggles to comply with the strict discipline of the Agojie and attracts several reprimands.

Meanwhile, clouds are gathering around Dahomey. At the port of Ouidah, the Portuguese slave trader Santo Ferreira has just arrived from Europe in search of slaves that he wishes to resell in Brazil. Her brother, Malik, is a mulatto whose mother was from Dahomey and whose father is a European.

Moved by the discovery of Dahomey where he sees for the first time Africans in positions of power, Malik contemplates with growing unease the business of his slave owner brother and the mistreatment inflicted on slaves. Santo Ferreira and Malik meet Oba Ade, the general of the Oyo army.

The latter tells them that he has concluded a treaty with two neighboring kingdoms to unite against Dahomey and reduce it to his mercy once and for all. At the palace of King Ghezo, court intrigues divide the king’s wives, who do not all see a good eye for the power he grants to Nanisca.

The general of Agojie, meanwhile, is troubled by a bad dream. The diviner interprets it as a sign that something or someone from Nanisca’s past will soon resurface. During a meeting at the palace, Nanisca pleads for Dahomey to refuse to pay tribute to the Oyo and put an end to the slave trade, to focus instead on the palm oil trade thanks to the palm groves that the kingdom owns.

The other palace dignitaries are asking for time to reinforce the army. King Ghézo decides to pay the tribute again this year but accepts that Nanisca shows him the palm groves. Some time later, during a trip to the jungle, Malik, separated from the others for the time to bathe, meets Nawi by chance and falls in love with her. Nawi is curious but flees when she hears Malik’s companions arrive.

After intensive training, Nawi and her friends complete their training. During the test which must decide if they will be admitted among the Agojie, Nawi is in the lead, but she turns back in order to come to the aid of her friend Fumbe. Despite this setback, she manages to catch up and finishes first.

Shortly after, Malik manages to speak to Nawi through a breach in the palace gate. In the evening, she comes to meet him in the forest and he reveals to her the alliance concluded by the Oyo against Dahomey. Upset, Nawi goes to find Nanisca in the bath and tells her the bad news. But Nanisca is furious to discover that Nawi has disobeyed again.

Nanisca reveals to Nawi that, in her youth, she was defeated, captured, and raped by men. She was able to escape but she had become pregnant. At the time of delivery, she inserted a shark’s tooth into the newborn’s left shoulder, then entrusted it to another warrior, who entrusted it to missionaries. Nanisca incises the mark that Nawi has there and she extracts the shark’s tooth from it, which proves that Nawi is none other than Nanisca’s daughter.

When the Oyo embassy arrives at the palace to collect the tribute it is owed, Nanisca discovers that the general is none other than Oba Abe, one of the men who had captured and raped her after a defeat in battle in his youth. The Oyos boast of having taken control of the port of Ouidah.

Upon discovering the promised gifts, they decree that the tribute is insufficient. King Ghézo does not respond to Oba Ade’s provocations and negotiates. Oba Ade claims 40 Agojie, King Ghézo gives him twenty. With a heavy heart, Nanisca selects Nawi to be sent to Ouidah.

Having reached Ouidah under the command of Nanisca, the Agojie face Oba Abe, who has come to take delivery of his future prisoners. But Nanisca refuses to hand over the Agojie and provokes Oba Ade into battle. As the Agojie retreat to the sea where boats await them, Nanisca stays behind to fight Oba Abe, but she finds herself in trouble.

Nawi intervenes to close a portcullis in order to block the passage to the rest of the Oyo detachment which seeks to lend a hand to its general. Thanks to her, Nanisca can retreat with the others, but the general does not openly show her gratitude for this initiative taken by the young warrior.

The open war against the Oyos is taking shape: a powerful army is approaching the capital of Dahomey. Finally ready, the Agojie leave to meet the enemy, to whom they lay a trap by making mines which they disperse in a site where the army is going to camp.

When the time is right, they blow up the mines, wreaking havoc and destruction among the Oyo army, then attack. The Dahomey army emerges victorious, but Oba Ade manages to escape and the Oyo carry off several wounded Agojie, including Nawi and Izogie. One of the Agojie manages to escape and returns to warn Nanisca.

But King Ghézo does not want to hear about a relief expedition: happy with the victory, he prepares to grant the title of “woman-king”, an ancient traditional honor, to Nanisca. The latter end up disobeying and, in the evening, she leaves with her comrades in arms for Ouidah where the prisoners have been taken.

Meanwhile, Nawi and Izogie manage to escape, but Izogie is killed during their escape. Taken back, Nawi is redeemed by Malik who recognized her and frees her. At nightfall, the Agojie infiltrates the port to free and arm the slaves there, provoking a revolt that puts the city on fire and bloodshed.

Nawi joins the other Agojie and helps Nanisca defeat Oba Abe. Santo Ferreira is killed trying to put down the uprising, while Malik, after unsuccessfully trying to persuade Nawi to come with him, sets sail to flee with the slaves. The return of the Agojie and Nanisca is a triumph with the population, so much so that King Ghézo grants him the title of

Data sheet

  • Original Title: The Woman King
  • Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
  • Screenplay: Dana Stevens, based on an idea by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens
  • Music: Terence Blanchard
  • Set design: Akin McKenzie
  • Costumes: Gersha Phillips
  • Photography: Polly Morgan
  • Editing: Terilyn A. Shropshire
  • Producer: Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Cathy Schulman, and Julius Tennon
Co-producer: Dale Butler
Executive Producer: Peter McAleese
  • Production companies: TriStar, Welle Entertainment, JuVee Productions, Jack Blue Productions, and Entertainment One
  • Distribution companies: TriStar (USA), Sony Pictures
  • Budget: US $ 50 million 
  • Country of production: United StatesCanadaUnited States Flag Flag of Canada
  • Original language: English
  • Format: Color
  • Genre: Drama, Historical, and Action
  • Duration: 126 minutes
  • Release dates:



Genesis and development

The Woman King is a project developed by producers Maria Bello and Cathy Schulman. The screenplay is written by Dana Stevens with help from Gina Prince-Bythewood who is also directing the film. The film is produced by TriStar and Entertainment One.

In March 2018, Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o were announced in lead roles. The second will finally leave the project shortly before the start of production, possibly out of disagreement with the way in which the script minimized the role of the Agojie in the slavery practices of the kingdom of Dahomey. The rest of the cast is announced in 2021.

Gina Prince-Bythewood said of the screenplay: “We didn’t want to show them as one thing: badass women who killed. They also laughed, loved, and cried.


Filming begins in November 2021 in South Africa.


The music for the film is composed by Terence Blanchard. He had already collaborated with the director, notably on the film Love and Basketball (2000) and the mini-series Shots Fired.

South African artist Lebo M. also composed five original songs for the films. The film also features vocal contributions from Dianne Reeves. The end credits include the chaosn Keep Rising, composed for the film by Jessy Wilson with the voice of Beninese musician Angélique Kidjo, who additionally plays the role of an Agojie in the film.


The Woman King premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022. It was released shortly after in American cinemas, on September 16, and in France on September 28.

Box office

Country or regionBox officeBox office cut-off dateNumber of weeks
 France182,711 entries2
United States Flag United States Canada
Flag of Canada
$ 55,674,7344
Total excluding United States 10,000,000  $4
World total 65 674 734  $4

North America

For its first weekend of operation, the feature film made $19 million in revenue and ranked first at the box office. At the end of three weeks of operation, it cumulates 46.7 million dollars of receipts and is carried by favorable word-of-mouth.


In France, for its first day of operation, The Woman King achieved 12,619 admissions, including 2,011 in preview, for 294 copies, positioning itself sixth in the box office for new releases just behind Maria rêve (12,745) and ahead of The Sixth Child (7,179). After the first week of operation, the film garnered 100,875 cumulative admissions, positioning itself sixth at the box office, behind the Une belle course (117,217) and ahead of Les Enfants des autres (97,702). In week 2, the film lost one place with 81,836 admissions, behind Without Filter (105,276) and ahead of the Une belle course (70,283).


The Rotten Tomatoes site gives a rating of 95% for 212 reviews. The Metacritic site gives it a score of 76 ⁄ 100, for 51 reviews listed. In France, the Allociné site gives an average of 2.6 ⁄ 5, after listing 15 Press titles.

Historical analysis

The action of the film takes place in 1823, at the beginning of the reign of Ghézo, the ninth king of Abomey, in the kingdom of Dahomey then in conflict with the kingdom of Oyo. King Ghézo indeed succeeded in wresting the kingdom from its status as a subordinate of Oyo in 1823.

The Agojie really existed. These elite warriors forming an exclusively female unit were also called Mino or Gbeto in the Fon language. It is possible that they were the first hunters of elephants, but the first certain traces of their integration into the army as a separate regiment go back to the beginning of the 18th century. They wore tunics down to the knees and wielded a variety of weapons, spears, machetes, bows, and guns.

The custom forbidding men to approach or watch the Agojie is recounted by Richard Francis Burton, a British soldier, explorer, and scholar, who traveled to Dahomey in the 1860s. The ordeal in which the Agojie cross a wall made of thorny acacia trees in defiance of pain is inspired by a parade that the Italian missionary Francesco Borghero says he witnessed in Abomey in 1861.

The beginning of the film also aptly shows the involvement of the kingdom of Dahomey in the ” slave trade ” and the triangular trade. At the time the film takes place, in 1823, Dahomey was enriched considerably thanks to its military conquests, but also by selling hundreds of thousands of prisoners from neighboring populations to French, British and Portuguese slavers.

The conflict between Dahomey and the Oyo over the port of Ouidah was inspired by real rivalries between African kingdoms for control of coastal towns at that time and later in the 19th century. This port was a source of conflict between Dahomey and Oyo from the 18th century: in 1729, the Yorubas of the kingdom of Oyo seized it by surprise, then the city was taken over by the Agojie, but all that took place a century before the time of the film.

In addition, the trade in palm oil was well and truly developed in Dahomey at that time, after the conquest of fertile lands.

The names used for the characters sometimes take the names of Agojie attested in the testimonies of European travelers, although at different times. Nanisca’s name appears in the writings of the French naval officer Jean Bayol, who visited Abomey in December 1889, where he gave this name to a teenager who passed a test intended to show her insensitivity by killing a prisoner of war. The name of Nawi is that of one of the last known Agojie warriors, met by a historian in the village of Kinta in 1978 and died in November 1979.

However, the film takes a number of liberties with the real story. The characters of Nanisca, Nawi, Izogie and the agojié warriors who have an individual story are not based on the biographies of real warriors. The Portuguese slaver Santo Ferreira is also a creation of the film, even if he embodies a type of European slave trader that corresponds to a historical reality. History vs. Hollywood speculates that the character of Santo Ferreira may have been freely inspired to the screenwriters by Francisco Félix de Souza , who played a key role in the slave trade in Dahomey during the reign of King Ghézo, notably as commander of the fort of Ouidah.

The main discrepancy between the film and historical reality is the attitude of the Agojie towards slavery. Indeed, The Woman King strongly downplays the responsibility of Dahomey female warriors in the slave trade. In reality, the Agojie were regularly involved in raids aimed at capturing prisoners in order to sell them as slaves to European merchants. Moreover, King Ghezo did not abolish this practice during his reign. Dahomey ceased to practice slavery in 1852, after twenty years of pressure from the United Kingdom, which in the meantime had abolished slavery in its colonies in 1833 for ideological and economic reasons.


The soundtrack to The Woman King is released digitally by Milan Records on September 16, 2022. The song Keep Rising by Jessy Wilson with Angélique Kidjo was released a few days earlier, on September 9, also in digital format.