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The Woman King: The truth about slavery matters | Arts and Culture


When the musical Black is King was released in 2020, African audiences and some critics argued that the film smeared and distorted the culture and history of the continent.

They describe its African-centric portrait of Africa as “Wakanda-esque”, a reference to the fictional East African country popularized by Black Pantheraction movies 2018 about black superheroes.

Directed and written by American singer Beyoncé, who is also its executive producer, Black is King is described by Disney — on whose platform it can be streamed — as a project to highlight “the beauty of Black tradition and excellence” and celebrate “the journeys of Black families.” black through time”.

Like Black Panther, however, it is adorned with mythological depictions that give the impression that pre-colonial Africa – a place of supposed wealth and utopia of human black – African men and women are simply majestic kings and queens. Of course, despite the lavish efforts at Blackness, many people still love Beyoncé’s 85-minute film, and some reviewers are labeled it’s a “breath of fresh air” that “celebrates Africa’s natives, styles and music”.

Fast-forward to September 2022: Africa and the African diaspora have a similarly enthralling and controversial cinematic production to wow in The Woman King.

Produced by Oscar winner Viola Davis and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film is about Agodjiea regiment of female troops defending the kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin) in the 1800s.

According to reports, this 6,000-man regiment began as a palace guard around 1700, and their warriors were officially married to the king as third-degree wives – spouses he did not have. love relationship. At that time, Agodjie were the only female soldiers in the world to participate in the war.

But here’s the thing: They also often participate in slave raids.

Dahomey got rich and thrived by selling slaves to European merchants. King Gezo, who ruled the kingdom from 1818 to 1858, make it clear that the slave trade is the “source and glory” of the wealth of the people.

However, to the detriment of African history, The Woman King hid Dahomey’s engaged in the transatlantic slave trade between 1715 and 1850.

It suggests that Dahomey was, in fact, an anti-slavery kingdom, when it certainly wasn’t. The film also portrays Agodjie as freedom fighters, while they are just ordinary soldiers who capture and sell slaves.

It’s basically a deeply cleansed version of the sombre truth about 19th century slavery and Africa, filled with sweet and poignant nostalgia for an Afro-Central fiction.

Julian Tennon, husband of Davis and co-producer of The Woman King, has defend the film’s significant flaws, stated: “It’s history but we have to get a license. We have to entertain people.”

Throughout the industry’s history – as witnessed in The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind – Hollywood directors and producers have largely refused to make films that accurately depict slavery.

Django Unchained, a 2012 revisionist western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, lacks nuance in its depiction of slavery. Lincoln, also released that year, suggested Negroes did not fight to end slavery – white people did. Meanwhile, the movie 12 Years a Slave won the 2013 Oscar. has faced criticism for failing to “represent the Negro against enslavement”.

When Hollywood producers, such as Davis, decide that the truth about slavery is indispensable, they lose credibility.

Their work is far from the dark and challenging times when important facts about slavery for African-American storytellers. From the 1830s to the 1890s, former slaves used their experience to unravel and humanize the terrible reality of slavery, building support for abolition. cancel.

Think of Frederick Douglass’ 1845 book, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Or Harriet Jacobs’ 1861 classic, Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl. These accounts provide a crude and spotless representation of the brutal realities of slavery.

According to the National Center for the Humanities at the University of North Carolina, “Fugitive or ‘former’ slave storytellers are expected to provide accurate details of their experiences in captivity. , emphasizing their sufferings under cruel masters and the power of will to set them free. “

Basically, storytellers have to be honest. Cruel honesty.

Today, the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement demands that Hollywood writers, producers, and executives, whether they be black, brown, or white, pay attention to detail and avoid creates revisionist narratives that reduce crimes committed by both Europeans and Africans during the transatlantic slave trade.

Africans sold other Africans as slaves. That all-important detail cannot be bent or avoided. Of course, it also did not have to be armed to reduce or eliminate the crimes of European slave traders.

As much as he could, Davis couldn’t atone for the Africans who had captured and sold people by deleting Dahomey’s slave-trading credentials in search of a relatable but smug fake story. attract a “popular” audience, even white people.

Sure, the history of Dahomey, and Agodjie in particular, is undeniably special and fascinating, but as Blacks, that shouldn’t diminish our shared commitment to dissemination. truth in our stories.

Let’s not forget that many pre-colonial African countries opposed the slave trade. For example, Nzinga Mbemba (1446–1543), ruler of the Kongo kingdom, wrote to the king of Portugal, João III, in 1526, to ask for an end led to the illegal population loss of his kingdom. His successor, Garcia II, did the same, but with little success. Other states against the slave trade included Futa Toro and Futa Jallon in West Africa.

The artistic convergence of African history and capitalism can serve as an ideal platform to set up informative, action-packed and thought-provoking films and conversations about the continent. black, black people and slavery.

However, The Woman King is a wasted opportunity to creatively explore a pivotal moment in African history. Davis’ leanings toward wild romanticism (instead of fundamental facts) caused a surprising amount of dissension for African societies ravaged by slavery and memory of 12 million souls shipping abroad.

Black is King, Black Panther, and The Woman King display a relentlessly haunting and relentless determination to evade reality and recreate Africa’s past. It is time to respect the fact that Africa has a rich, vibrant and imperfect history.

In 2020, Davis asked sarcastically: “With any movie – are people ready for the truth?”

That’s what black people are. The filmmakers claim to speak for Africa.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.

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