'The Woman King' offers nuanced look at Black history, says John Boyega

The film primarily focuses on Viola Davis’ character General Nanisca, leader of the all-female group of warriors


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John Boyega and Viola Davis attend The Woman King Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo: AFP)
John Boyega and Viola Davis attend The Woman King Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo: AFP)

Published: Tue 27 Sep 2022, 1:38 PM

Last updated: Tue 27 Sep 2022, 1:43 PM

British star John Boyega says he signed on for Viola Davis-led The Woman King as he believed the film explores an important chapter in Black history beyond “surface level”. The Gina Prince-Bythewood directorial, about an all-female warrior unit who protected the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century, features Boyega as King Ghezo.

As much as the action sequences will enthral the audiences, the “nuanced and detailed look” at the Black history is not to be missed out, the Star Wars actor said.

“I would tell the audience that it’s much more of a nuanced detailed take that goes into literally the journey of characters and their emotions as they change over time as these events kind of happen to them.

“We’re doing more than just hitting the surface level points that we know of this kind of history. We’re going deeper and deeper,” Boyega said.

The Woman King primarily focuses on Davis’ character General Nanisca, the leader of the all-female group of warriors called the Agojie and how she trains the next generation of warriors to fight their enemies.

The upcoming film may have a period feel to it but the themes it tackles are contemporary, said Boyega, known for films such as Attack the Block, Detroit, Breaking and Steve McQueen’s acclaimed anthology series Small Axe.

“It explores different perspectives and some very hard-hitting points around femininity, togetherness, family and war. There are so many stories in there and there’s so many side stories with all the different characters and the ensemble that we have,” the actor said.

Boyega revealed one of the reasons for saying yes to the project was the chance to collaborate with Davis, the Oscar-winning actor of Fences.

“I wanted to just collaborate with Viola Davis, because I’d watched her work coming up. I saw that as a great opportunity... She was fantastic to work with. I was really excited to just come, sit and collaborate with her on the few scenes that we have,” he added.

The actor was particularly amazed by Davis’ “selfless devotion” to art. Bythewood, who previously made 2000’s Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Charlize Theron-led The Old Guard in 2020, was another name Boyega ticked off his career wish list with The Woman King.

“Gina personally reached out to me, which I felt very flattered by because I respect her work and then it was the opportunity of working with Black women.

“In my opinion, some of the best Black women in the industry have shown that they can do whatever they want within this field. I just wanted to be a part of their journey also,” he said.

The Woman King also features Lashana Lynch.

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