The Woman King ~ Commentary

by Ronald Jones

(special to The Dreher Report)

Rome. Sparta. The Vikings. Ancient China. Great Britain. Movies have been made about these and numerous other aggressive polities in world history. Each one has conquered, slaughtered, and enslaved their way to dominance, and they conquered, slaughtered and enslaved to maintain their dominance.  

We enjoyed Gladiator (2000) and 300 (2006), as well as their predecessors The Robe (1953), Ben Hur (1959), and Spartacus (1960) (among others), even though the Romans, throughout the course of their existence as part of a republic and later empire, routinely committed mass murder and enslaved countless Europeans. Yet, they’ve been consistently valorized in cinema. The movie 300, for instance, made it seem as though Sparta was a bright beacon of the Greek idea of freedom in opposition to Persia’s despotism and slavery. Sparta, though, repressed its subservient Helot population with terrible ruthlessness.  

I’m aware of Dahomey’s history, and have never had any illusion about the brutality of its armies and the role the kingdom played in feeding the slave trade. However, we shouldn’t shy away from seeing an African kingdom and empire portrayed on screen because of objectionable aspects of its history.  

I want to see every African empire and historical African figure either featured in film or in a mini-series format, warts and all, because every precolonial African state has caused massive bloodshed and suffering from the wars they have waged. On the flipside, these very African states produced some of the finest art, literature and architecture the world has ever seen. Their highly developed statecraft, as well, belied traditional European/American notions of Africans being primitive savages. For example, Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote in his essay “Of National Characters”, that there were “no ingenious manufactures amongst [the African], no arts, no sciences.” Emmanuel Kant, the German philosopher, believed as well, that among “…the Negros of Africa … not a single one was ever found who presented anything great in art or science or any other praise-worthy quality…”  

We should bring to light these African kingdoms and empires just as the Might of Rome and the semi-mythical King Arthur and his famed knights of the roundtable have been repeatedly highlighted in popular culture. 

The creators of The Woman King, I am sure, are seeking to capitalize on what they hope will be a successful Black Panther sequel. Keep in mind, though, that the Dahomean warrior women were unique in the world at that time and in history as being the only organized group of women soldiers. When we speak of great women in African history, it’s usually as individuals. Nzinga or Amina for example, who, besides being strong leaders, demonstrated individual combat abilities. The Dahomean women were regiments of skilled fighters, the elite of the Dahomean military. Their achievements almost demanded a movie.

Ronald Jones is a writer of science fiction. He has written three novels Warriors of the Four Worlds, Blood, Sweat, and Blaster Bolts: Adrenaline Charged Tales of Speculative Fiction, and Interrupted Journey.

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