Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

DUBAI: In the 26 years since her screen debut, 57-year-old American actress Viola Davis has become the only black American to win the acting triple crown – an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, had his star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was even named by the New York Times as one of the 10 best actors of the century. Never, however, has she been so proud of a movie as she is of “The Woman King.”

“For the first time in my career, I had an agency — an agency to be able to control the narrative for myself, to have a character that reflected me,” Davis told Arab News. “It’s a story where I don’t have to take my darkness away for the role to work. It meant freedom – that’s what it meant.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), “The Woman King” is the kind of movie many have been asking for decades — a historical epic in the style of “Braveheart” or “Gladiator” which focuses on the history of African leaders. It is set in the actual West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823 and focuses on General Nanisca (Davis), the woman who would become the “king” of Dahomey.

For Bythewood, this is the film she has dreamed of making all her career. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies and I’ve always wanted to do our ‘Braveheart.’ , says Bythewood.

Julius Tennon and Viola Davis attend a special screening of ‘The Woman King’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Doing so, however, was anything but easy. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, fought for seven years, with Bythewood coming last year to help assemble a cast worthy of such an ambitious project.

“To go from that desire to a green light is a lot. It’s a lot of fighting. That’s a lot of moving parts. That’s a lot of casting. But I feel like it happened at the right time. And certainly, I feel like all of my work so far has allowed me to be able to tell that story and tell it in the right way,” Bythewood says.

Viola Davis and John Boyega in “The Woman King”. (Provided)

The team has assembled a cast of up-and-coming talent, including Lashana Lynch (“Doctor Strange 2,” “No Time to Die”), John Boyega (“Star Wars” sequel trilogy) and Thuso Mbedu (“The Path clandestine iron”), each of which took on different historical figures that showed the complicated nature of 19th century Africa, in which prominent West African kingdoms worked with European slavers to sell those whom they they overcame in battle, a practice they later rejected.

“I really had to learn about this story, and once I did, I had a responsibility to represent this man not to run away from his conflicts, especially conflicts that are quite negative,” Boyega says. “I had to be open to the reality of evil, in the interest of good representation.”

Viola Davis in “The Woman King”. (Provided)

At the center of it all is Davis herself, giving perhaps the best performance of her career.

“This film would not have been made without Viola. Nobody else can be Nanisca, and she’s all she is off-screen as she is on-screen. She is so powerful,” says Bythewood.

“She wants collaboration, and we had a great time building that character. She wasn’t familiar with fighting and stunts because she had never done it before, but I did, so I brought my athlete mentality and let her know what it’s really like to be in a ring, hit or be hit, swing a gun Once we had that, we were really able to build from there, and once we had the Viola performance, we had our key ingredient,” Bythewood continues.

For Lynch, it wasn’t just about telling the story of an African kingdom – it was the story of a society ruled by a black woman, a society that had never been explored on screen. before, and she and the team felt a huge responsibility to do so. properly.

“For these women, this is the first time that we are telling their story. We have to do them good. They are our ancestors. These women are the reason we are here on this earth,” says Lynch.

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