Gina Prince-Bythewood

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — One of the year’s stronger casts are featured in the film “The Woman King,” The production is based on the real Agojie, the fearless warrior women who acted as the king’s guard and kept Dahomey (now Benin) safe in the 19th century, Longtime producer, writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood has also made it both a showcase for mighty Black women and an action product. In addition, “The Woman King” represents the culmination of a special project for star Viola Davis, who’s sought to have it made for six years to get the film made.

“Two days before we left for the movie, we didn’t think it was going to happen,” Davis told the Shadow and Act website. “It is always a fight as a Black artist to get films made. The journey from the inception of the idea to seeing it on screen, if you ever see it on screen, cannot be quantified, cannot be explained, has never been explained. By the time you see it on social media, it’s been reduced to two seconds of, oh yeah, I wanted to do the film, and then suddenly it was made because I was badass. No, it doesn’t work like that.”

Prince-Bythewood, whose career has spanned over two decades, also was fascinated by the project and thrilled to work on it. 

“The connection was guttural for me, this film,” she explained. “And certainly when you’re going in to get a job as a director, you have to portray strength and swagger, and I can get us through this, and I can handle these millions of dollars. But there was something about being in that room and being with Viola, and I went for the truth. I always go for the truth, but I went for the truth.”

For another cast member Thuso Mbedu, the bond that the actors and crew created on set began with Prince Bythewood’s leadership.

“She really believes in having personal relationships with all the actors, and that went a long way,” The Underground Railroad actor explained. “She would drive me home because I don’t have a car. I took the bus sometimes. And I thought she was the coolest. And then working with Viola. It’s still a running joke amongst us cast members where we say it’s trauma bonding because of how hard the training was. It was absolutely brutal. But we’re always there to lift each other up when you feel like, OK, you’re not able to do this today, but you have someone else to look to who then lifts you up. It was hard not to connect on many different levels because of the type of story we’re telling.”

“The Woman King” is now showing in theaters.