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Brian Hodge

I have not seen The Woman King yet. I’m not sure I want to, but it has nothing to do with the contrived controversy about the movie’s historical inaccuracy. I suspect that some of the shade thrown on the film actually comes from its marketers and producers as controversy is one of the best ways to gin up interest in a movie. How well that is working depends largely on whether or not you have heard of the movie and it’s accompanying outrage.

Since there is a good chance you may be scratching your head wondering what I’m talking about, let me clarify. Viola Davis is one of the producers and the lead actor in a movie about a group of outcast, all-female, bloodthirsty West African warriors. These trained killers are the personal bodyguards of King Ghezo (John Boyega). Davis plays Ninisca a leader of the Agojie, the aforementioned trained killers, that protect the Kingdom of Dahomey.

The aging Davis is very open that she wanted a movie that showcased lots of dark skinned women in roles that are perceived as powerful. That Davis and presumably many of her fans seem to prioritize “power” as mimicking some of the worst and most violent characteristics typically associated with barbarian men, might be a commentary on just how far afield the women’s empowerment movement has strayed. There are more sophisticated ways to exercise power than just bashing in people’s faces. Nonetheless, I like a good action movie with simulated killing as much as the next guy and that this one is also full of scantily clad chicks doing the killing seems to be a plus to me, who still has the emotional maturity of a 12-year old boy.

The fuss comes about because in reality the Kingdom of Dahomey was run by African born slave traders and like the television series “Roots” before it The Woman King, or so I read, glosses over this point and puts forward the laughable fiction that European, in this case French, slavers were regularly going ashore and kidnapping Africans from their own villages to sell in America and the Caribbean.

Europeans would be needlessly risking their lives to try and pull this off. Not only were there hostile Africans lurking in the bush that knew the land better than any European and would jump at the chance to kill outsiders, but also because of the risk of catching malaria and other diseases to which the Europeans had no immunity. Despite what you hear from some of the woke radicals who love to revise history on cable news, the reason European empires bought African slaves for their new world colonies was not because they “just hated dark skinned people,” but because Africans were, for the most part, immune to diseases particularly malaria, which still kills nearly a million people a year. Such diseases killed off many of the first few waves of European slaves, again in this case mostly French, that worked the Caribbean plantations. Also the coastal slave trading enclaves, run by Africans, were conveniently available. It is not as if Africans only started enslaving their neighbors once North America was colonized.

To add to the historical inaccuracy neither Ninsca, nor any other woman, ever became “King” of Dahomey.

Is historical inaccuracy really a reason to reject or boycott a movie? I assure you movies like Braveheart, which made William Wallace out to be a homegrown guerilla, instead of a well-educated military man or AMC’s “Anne Boleyn” which cast a black actress to play an English strumpet turned Queen or 300 which portrayed a bunch of homosexual proto-communist Spartans as the women-loving saviors of Western Democracy, all had their flaws. I also assure you that the Mohawk, Algonquin, and Mohicans depicted in James Fennimore Cooper’s fiction were not nearly as nice and understanding as he portrays them. Movies based on historical events are often good despite the fact they are unrealistic. One of the most important things movies like this provide is a window into historical tales that the audience can then look into further. The truth is often more interesting than the Hollywood version, but unfortunately it usually doesn’t fit into a neat, two-hour narrative.

If you don’t want to see a movie don’t see it, but boycotts are for losers who want everyone else to know they aren’t going to watch a movie and why.

More so than hearing someone’s first world grievance about why they are boycotting a movie, play or television show, I find it more interesting to explore why we seek out violent entertainment. As for me I understand that certain exceptional people notwithstanding, most human beings are cruel, petty and vindictive and a great many of them, especially in the past, were terribly violent. But this is something that humanity is outgrowing. We live in a world that is far less violent than it was for our ancestors. Yes there are still people that enslave others. There are still (occasional) wars. But you are far more likely to die of an accident than you are to be a victim of crime, war or terrorism. That just wasn’t true for most of human history. Watching violence in movies is a reminder of how things used to be. I believe it allows us to experience a simulacrum of humanity’s cruelties in a safe way and cautions us not to emulate some of the worst behaviors we see in history. After all the most violent characters in our stories usually reform their behavior or come to a bad end. The bad guy usually doesn’t win. Though if you are looking for a special kind of bleakness I urge you to try out a 1960’s Henry Fonda western called Welcome to Hard Times.

The Woman King from what I understand is historically inaccurate, but it looks like a pretty neat movie. Alas, I rarely go to the movie theater anymore so if I do check it out I will have to wait for it to stream somewhere.