I wish I could say I followed the crowd to the movies to see “Woman King.” Unfortunately, there weren’t many in the theater. We made it a girls night out. Along with a friend, my best friend and my sister, I enjoyed all the glory of the underrated movie. It really was a moment. If you haven’t seen it, I invite you to go. It’s more than controversial and worthy of the seven-year commitment it took the cast and crew to make the film.
I am a leader for youth and young adult ministry in my church. Former high school teacher. Emerging filmmaker. Writer. The girl. Sister. Friend. And proudly, an African American woman. It was through the lens of these identities that I watched the film, and in full reciprocity, surprisingly for most films, the film spoke on every level of who I am and who I am becoming. With that, this is less of a review and more of a first-hand account.
Viola Davis was Viola Davis in that she gave a powerful performance. Viola Davis wasn’t Viola Davis in that this performance didn’t include the brand of high-pitched emotions we’ve come to associate with the powerful actor. She has become something else. While bringing his tour de force acting, his communicative facial expressions, his infamous gait, there was a subtlety, a nuance. It was one of Davis’ most emotional roles. Not openly, but always with so much passion, vigor and intention. We didn’t see the full-body scream that deservedly won him an Oscar. I have no motivation to belittle this kind of performance; it’s rare.
But this role, considered by the actress as her magnum opus, required different layers, and an opening of such layers against the backdrop of war and masculinity, honor and brute force. She created a refined and courageous femininity. But then there was another kind of courage. A courage that faces the beast and defies the commands of rulers, if they oppose the direction of the heart. And yet, Davis felt like home, felt like a mother, like every little girl’s hero while fighting the biggest battle you could ever face – yourself.
Davis carefully shapes and sculpts her character with ease and mastery. However, she is not alone. The cast is brilliant. The ladies in particular stand up to the giant Davis, under the sharp direction of Gina Prince-Bythewood. But Woman King is more than entertainment, and these ladies do more than act.
The on-screen warriors were fighting for us. For every black woman left out of the trade deal. Each child unknowingly carrying with her the decisions made so impassively before she ever had a say. And the scars she bears that will unwittingly lead to her healing and the linking of past and present. A necessary unity to restore hope for the future.
It is not with apathy that I ignore the sordid past of slavery and how even other Africans played a role. It is the continued brilliance, growth and determination of being Black that I celebrate. I can’t number the movies we should boycott, remove from streaming, or write off history if we were counting the sins, misinformation, or murky portrayal of movies represented by other cultures, countries, or races. The Black Lives Matters Movement and other organizations supporting the cause are not hypocrites. They take us all on a journey so that we can be better human beings and a better nation.
This healing thread was woven throughout the film. Like most of us, I am both a leader and a mover. As a Christian leader, I point others to Christ, while I myself turn to Him for renewal. If we don’t do that, if we don’t heal, we can’t lead. If we don’t lead, we can’t rule. If we don’t rule, inevitably someone else will. Someone who will tell us that our stories are not true. Or that they are imperfect. Or that they’re not good enough. In other words, our light is inconsequential, we are dull and imperfect, and we will never be good enough.
But like these women, these beautiful women, who resist acceptance and norms of society, not the right color, do not marry or have children, are not wanted and until this year not known or celebrated by the world. Yet if only we had a female king today. Forging a path of power and empathy, for his people and for his warriors. I argue that she is all of us. Everything is our responsibility.
Please watch the movie again or for the first time. After watching, get active. Make peace with the children you left behind, whatever that may symbolize for you. Stay resolute in your covenant with a people who may not be like you, in every way possible. Become the hope of the next generation, even if the world is afraid to see you shine. Keep fighting; through thickets and adversaries there is glorious and bloody victory in your effort. And when you’ve won, wear your crown and dance to the beat of the drums. My prayer for you is that you realize that you can be born and proudly bring into this world something as beautiful, powerful and resolute as you are. Seize this opportunity with all your might.
Mychal Brown is a writer and former teacher at Achievement First Amistad High in New Haven.