The historical drama raked in $19 million at the box office over the weekend despite multiple reviewers pointing out that the project is not an accurate portrayal of the Dahomey Kingdom and their female warriors. While “The Woman King” paints them as abolitionists, the truth was that they profited off slavery until the British Empire forced them to abandon the slave trade.
During an interview with Variety, Davis defended the liberties taken with history.
“I agree with [director] Gina Prince-Bythewood’s saying is you’re not going to win an argument on Twitter,” the 57-year-old actress 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.”
Davis’s co-star husband and producer partner Julius Tennon agreed, describing the film as “edu-tainment,” not a documentary. He said if “The Woman King” wasn’t entertaining, 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.”
Earlier this month, Davis insisted that the movie was vital for the black community. “Here’s the thing I’m going to add to that: It will just be a moment if people don’t come see the movie,” she said during a red carpet interview.
“You’re sending a very clear message to a machine called Hollywood … Hollywood is interested in green. It just is, it is what I do, so if you don’t come see it then you’re sending a message that black women cannot lead the box office globally.”
Reviews for the movie have been incredibly positive, but even some left-wing outlets called out how inaccurate the portrayal of the Agojie warriors was.
The Wall Street Journal wrote of the movie, “The central problem with the movie — call it the #MeToo ‘Black Panther’ — is that in reality Dahomey notoriously built its wealth on capturing local people and selling them into slavery.”
“Characters in ‘The Woman King’ blame enslavement in Dahomey on the economic meddling of white traders although it was well-established in West Africa before the Europeans got involved.”
“Historical inaccuracy never troubled Hollywood before, so why shouldn’t the ladies help themselves to some of it? Fair question, but there’s a difference between stretching the truth and presenting the opposite of it,” the WSJ review concludes.