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"The Woman King": Film about women warriors in the Dahomey kingdom

Viola Davis waves to photographers at the premiere of the film "The Woman King" at Roy Thomson Hall during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, Friday, Sept. 9, 2022   -  
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Chris Pizzello/2022 Invision


Viola Davis brought her empowering drama "The Woman King" to the Toronto International Film Festival, Friday (9 September 2022), for the film's world premiere.

Davis stars as an African warrior named Nanisca, with Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and Sheila Atim co-starring as fellow soldiers.

As she was walking into the screening, Davis spoke briefly about taking on the role.

"It feels right. It feels like it made my life. It feels like my coming feels like it's my coming out party. It's my debutante ball. I always knew I was Nanisca," Davis said.

Drawing from the real history of the Agojie, women warriors who defended the West African kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin) from the 1600s until the late 19th century, "The Woman King" is a muscular action-drama that puts female power front and center at a time when women's rights are imperiled.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood expressed pride that she was able to tell a true story with the cast she picked.

"This is a story that's never been told. It's a film that we haven't seen before. Foremost, we wanted to just make a kickass movie that people could enjoy," Prince-Bythewood said.

"But you're looking up on screen and seeing characters and women that you don't normally see in this position. It was really important to the actors to be able to embody characters they haven't been able to do before. And it just felt safe, and it was joyous, and it was fun to be able to do that," she added.

Adrienne Warren called the experience both enlightening and grueling.

"Let's just say we were in the gym six times a week. If you were not on set, you were in the gym. And I feel like we were more of like a football team. We trained together. We did everything together. We ate the same foods. We're on the same diet. And it was intense. But there is no other way to do this film, no other way to tell this story and to honor these women this way," Warren said.

While some of the cast had the vigorous task of playing warriors, and the intense training that went along with it, Jayme Lawson, who plays the queen, says she had it easy.

"I didn't have to do any of the warrior women training. I just sat up as the queen looking pretty next to John. So, we got to be a little bit more comfortable than the rest of the cast. But they really put in the work," Lawson said.

But that doesn't mean she didn't wish you play with them.

"I wish I could have been a part of the choreography. I was like, can a queen just kind of come in and do a little one-two, you know, just a little bit. But nah," Lawson said.

"The Woman King" rises up in theatres on September 16.

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