Comic book shop-style debates about whether the Amazons or the Dora Milaje would win in a fight are fun, but how about the story of some real-life African “Amazons”? That’s the premise behind The Woman King, a new project being developed over at TriStar Pictures. Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o have been tapped to star as mother and daughter in the film, which is about the general of an army of female warriors known as “Amazons” and her daughter defending their homeland against French colonial forces in 19th-century West Africa, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The film is inspired by the true story of the women warriors of Dahomey, the West African kingdom located inside present-day Benin that resisted colonization for decades until finally being annexed by the French in 1894. The kingdom was known for its corps of ferocious female warriors, who were dubbed the “Dahomey Amazons” by Westerners but referred to each other as “N’Nonmiton,” or “our mothers.”
The origins of the N’Nonmiton are unclear—historians disagree on whether they originated from the Dahomean cultural tradition of female hunters, or as palace guards—but history is clear that they engaged in active combat, fighting and dying on the battlefield by the thousands alongside their male counterparts. The training to become a member of the corps was brutal, including climbing thorny hedges, executing prisoners of war, and being sent to the wilderness to survive with only a machete for more than a week. These warrior women took a vow of celibacy as symbolic “wives of the king,” and touching one was punishable by death.
The last known member of the N’Nonmiton, a woman named Nawi—which also happens to be the name of Nyong’o’s character in the film—died in Benin in 1979. You can read more about them over at Smithsonian and Bust magazines.