OP-ED: 'The Woman King' glorifies African slave-trading kingdom

Although presented in the film as an underdog, the real-world version of the kingdom is notable for its vast contributions to the Atlantic slave trade, and its brutality toward its captives from its subjugated neighbours.

OP-ED: 'The Woman King' glorifies African slave-trading kingdom
The Woman King
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Viola Davis’ latest action film, “The Woman King,” glorifies the Agojie, the female fighting force of the west African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. 

Although presented in the film as an underdog, the real-world version of the kingdom is notable for its vast contributions to the Atlantic slave trade, and its brutality toward its captives from its subjugated neighbors. 

The movie, which is currently being lauded as a celebration of African resilience and womanhood due to its fierce depiction of black Amazonian warriors, couldn’t be further from the reality of the Dahomey kingdom, which was first put in its place by the British for the practice of slavery, and later defeated by the French. 

The movie lauds the Dahomey warriors as underdogs that punched up and defeated French colonialists, as depicted in vivid and highly imaginative fight scenes showcasing the Agojie’s martial prowess against superior French firearms. 

As detailed by the Encyclopedia Brittanica and Wikipedia, which cite numerous historical texts, the growth of the Dahomey coincided with the Atlantic slave trade, developing a reputation as a slave trading hub and a major supplier of slaves for European slave traders. The nation’s entire economy was built on the conquest of its neighbors and on the backs of slaves, who contributed to its immense growth.

Slaves were forced to toil on Dahomey plantations and were routinely mass executed in large-scale human sacrifices during celebrations known as the “Annual Customs of Dahomey.” 

The decline of the Kingdom came with British pressure to abolish the slave trade, which included a total naval blockade with anti-slavery patrols surrounding the nation’s coast, as detailed by the Journal of African History

The Dahomey would later engage in territorial warfare with the French in the 1890s, which resulted in resounding French victories and ultimately the fall of the kingdom, which was annexed by the French as a colony. 

Those undoubtedly familiar with Dahomey’s history have panned the film as a whitewashing of Dahomey’s significant contributions to the vile practice of slavery throughout the 19th century, and its glorification of a slave empire that abused its subjects, its neighbors, and profited off of human misery.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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