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How Viola Davis Is Making Waves in The Woman King

Published on September 29, 2022

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Viola Davis in The Woman King

Viola Davis is making waves in The Woman King, a film described as a Black female Braveheart. After the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 9th, 2022, it received roaring applause.  

“We love you, Viola!” and “Thank you, Viola” could be heard multiple times in Roy Thomson Hall, according to HollywoodReporter, with the audience erupting into applause the first time Davis appeared onscreen. That applause continued to follow anytime Davis or the other cast members swung a sword or threw a spear.   

What is The Woman King?

The Woman King is inspired by the story of the real-life, all-female military unit, known as the Agojie, that guarded the West African kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th to 19th centuries. Taking place in 1823, fearsome General Nanisca, played by Davis, is training the next generation of troops. She takes a young recruit, Nawi, who is played by Thuso Mbedu and grows her into the woman she wants to become.  

Protecting the West African Kingdom of Dahomey from European colonizers, and the horrors of the slave trade, the film has been described as both thrilling and empowering. A predominantly female cast, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Manohla Dargis wrote for the New York Times: “The women are their own greatest weapons, and among everything else it addresses, “The Woman King” is about strong, dynamic Black women, their souls, minds and bodies.”   

With a compelling display of Black power, the film also reflects an important message regarding gender. Dargis wrote for the New York Times: “Women are taught to live on their knees, and part of what makes this film so moving is how it lays claim to a chapter in history that upends received ideas about gender even if the story is more complex than the movie suggests.”  

Viola Davis Tapped Into Her ‘Warrior Spirit’ for the Film

Davis pushed her body to the extreme to prepare for her role in The Woman King. Playing a fictional military leader, Davis spent months “putting her body through hell” to reach a muscular physique. 

She trained five hours a day in order to prepare for the role. The days included an hour and a half of weight training, three and a half hours of martial arts, punching and running on the treadmill.  

“I had to tap into my warrior spirit,” she said in an interview with the WashingtonPost. “The more I had to wield my sword, I felt like I was wielding my inner sword. There’s a pride that I took in that.”  

Davis Wants Her Woman King Character to Inspire Young Women 

The grueling workout regimen was worth it for Davis, who told the crowd at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 9th that her character was meant to serve as an inspiration for young women.  

“I want to do for young Black girls what Miss [Cecily] Tyson did for me when I was 7 years old,” Davis said at the premiere. “She was the physical manifestation of the dream, and she came to me through a broken-down television set in a dilapidated apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island. What she delivered to me is something that cannot be quantified in words.”  

In a post on her Instagram account, which displays the digital cover of Essence promoting The Woman King, Davis wrote: “The journey that it took to be right here in this moment is one that we will cherish forever. To be seen, heard, and uplifted as Black women by Black women and showcased to the world is more than we could have ever asked for.”  

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Lead image credit: Viola Davis in The Woman King courtesy of Sony Pictures

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The Author
Conchita is a Toronto-based writer with a background in journalism. She has written for outlets such as CTV, Avenue Magazine and Maclean’s. Conchita enjoys pop culture, travelling and jogging alongside Toronto’s waterfront.