Over the weekend, despite having no recognizable I.P., franchise connections, or a big fighter jet, The Woman King climbed to the top of the box office with a $19 million opening. It was an unlikely success that may not be as flashy as Avengers: Endgame’s $300 million opening, but it is exciting to have an original action epic at the top of the box office for a change. One doesn’t even need to see another movie before seeing The Woman King.
However, those who read up on the Dahomey Kingdom before the film had some concerns. The Dahomey Kingdom, which The Woman King tells a mostly fictionalized account of, was involved in the slave trade, and critics of the film online accused its depiction of whitewashing and glorifying slavers. Speaking with Variety, Davis and her co-star, producing partner, and husband Julius Tennon defended the film, first by expressing the futility of arguing with people on social media.
“I agree with [director] Gina Prince-Bythewood’s saying is you’re not going to win an argument on Twitter,” Davis said. “We entered the story where the kingdom was in flux, at a crossroads. They were looking to find some way to keep their civilization and kingdom alive. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were decimated. Most of the story is fictionalized. It has to be.”
Tennon continued by describing the movie as “edu-tainment,” insisting that the production has “to entertain people” because otherwise, “that would be a documentary.” If the movie didn’t entertain, then “people wouldn’t be in the theaters doing the same thing we saw this weekend. We didn’t want to shy away from the truth. The history is massive, and there are truths on that that are there. If people want to learn more, they can investigate more.”
Ultimately, Davis insists that the movie examines women who were forced into battle or faced death. “They were recruited between the ages of eight and 14,” said Davis. “They were recruited by the King to fight for the kingdom of Dahomey. They were not allowed to marry or have children. The ones who refused the call were beheaded.”
Davis doesn’t seem too concerned with the criticism. Earlier this year, she responded to calls for boycotts: “Don’t come see it, then, you’re sending a message that Black woman can’t lead a box office globally, and that you are supporting that narrative.” But speaking with Variety, she focused on the positivity she experienced in the audience’s enjoyment. “I saw a TikTok video today of women in a bathroom of an AMC theater, and I don’t think they knew each other. They were all chanting and ruminating. That cannot be quantified by words.”