Daily interviews with The female king screenwriter Dana Stevens about grounding the warrior Agojie story with female characters who offer very distinct viewpoints.
Like the Agojie warriors in The female kingdirector Gina Prince-Bythewood and screenwriter Dana Stevens had to fight to tell this story.
“A lot of times people would say, ‘We don’t really need all that action, it’s really a moving story,'” Stevens explains, “and Gina would say, ‘No, it’s an action movie.’ When I wrote the script, I wanted that to be established. I wrote an action scene for the beginning. Gina always fought for the great epic scope of the film and the emotion.
However, the film is still filled with dramatic moments, which Stevens says elevates the story.
“I’ve never written an action movie before, but I’ve heard that the best versions of the action are the ones where there are emotional stakes for the characters. So that’s always been the most important to me as a writer: Who are these women? What are their inner and outer problems and how do they solve them with each other and through their actions?”
It all started with Maria Bello
For those who have seen the film, they may have done a double take seeing one of the names in the credits of the story: Maria Bello. Yes, after visiting Africa, the actress went to producer Cathy Shulman with the idea of telling the story of the Agojie warriors with Viola Davis. When Stevens started writing the screenplay, she was excited to do it for Davis.
“Viola is my absolute favorite actress,” Stevens says. “When I was sent something that Viola was going to produce and most likely star in, that I would create a role for her who I truly think is the most exciting actress in film and television today, I wanted do it!”
Producers sent him a lookbook, articles, and other materials to begin preparing for the pitch, with 200 years of Agojie history for Stevens to choose from.
“I was blown away by the fact that Americans know so little about other cultures and their history. This culture was so juicy, textured and beautiful. It’s Gladiator. This is game of thrones. I was very excited to bring this world to life and keep it as grounded in real history as possible.
In order to stay true to history, Stevens looked at eyewitness accounts of the time and also thought a lot about people’s attitudes in 1823.
“Ultimately, I felt the key to writing this movie was, what’s it like to be these women? What’s it like to be a warrior? When you were reading stuff about the Agojie, it was all very objectified. They’re not brought to life as individual people; they’re just this group written by men. I had to take all that good stuff for the texture, but I also had to ask myself, what are these women really thinking? Let’s create characters who think different things. This is something that I think is very successful in the film: they all have slightly different points of view: Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), Izogie (Lashana Lynch), Amenza (Sheila Atim), Nanisca (Viola Davis) and Shante (Jayme Lawson) They all have different points of view on how it should be in their country.
But Nanisca de Viola Davis has the most influence among the warriors since she is the right arm of King Ghezo (John Boyega).
“How much does the character of Nanisca advise this fascinating young man? It was a time when the slave trade was in disarray, and I felt it was important to talk about the slave trade in the film, which is why I placed it in that time.
A special connection for two characters
Stevens admits that this kind of film is unfortunately not an easy sell for studios. But after a few tweaks to the script, they set out to find a director, and Prince-Bythewood soon came on board.
“She brought a lot from her point of view. She’s an athlete, so she was really interested in sisterhood and athletic ability. We worked a lot on Ghezo because we wanted it to be more textured and interesting.
Prince-Bythewood was also able to add a level of authenticity that Stevens appreciated.
“I had written the scene where Izogie says to Nawi: ‘You are powerful; you don’t know how powerful you are,” but it’s a hundred times better with the idea of Gina from Izogie braiding Nawi’s hair while she says that.
The dynamic within the film must also feel like a brotherhood, especially with the characters of Nawi and Nanisca having a special bond in the film.
“Thuso and Viola actually had a meeting, and that’s how Gina knew they would have chemistry. Even in the pitch deck that was given to me, it was still an idea they would have. that connection, but it was my idea that they didn’t necessarily know that. I wanted the movie to have that mythical quality, like fate was in play. Nanisca’s inner journey as a hero is that she’s stuffed with her younger self and that she cut out her emotions. To me, it was an incredible allegory that she was facing her younger self by facing this young woman.
Debate on the history of Agojie
Like any popular movie coming out these days, The female king also had its share of hot takes. Many people debate the truth behind the Agojie warriors and their involvement in the slave trade. Stevens says she was very aware of this when she was writing, especially when Zora Neale Hurston’s book barracón, about one of the last slaves to come to the United States, was finally released in 2018.
“Cudjo Lewis, who is interviewed by Zora Neale Hurston in this book, was captured by the Agojie as 35 years after [The Woman King] takes place. Much of what people on Twitter get from their information is Cudjo’s eyewitness account of his attack. This is also why I chose to set the story in 1823. I immediately wanted there to be the council scene where they talk about it and they argue to put an end to the slave trade. slaves. I tried to bring up the subject of what they do and what they did, and even John Boyega talks about Ghezo when he was young. I found evidence that he tried different things like [trading] Palm oil. But in the end, he ended up taking over the capture of their enemies. And John Boyega even said, “Let’s do a sequel, and I’ll be the bad guy.”
The woman king plays now.