did the Amazons of Dahomey oppose the slave trade as shown in the film?

did the Amazons of Dahomey oppose the slave trade as shown in the film?

Where does history stop and where does fiction begin in “The Woman King” in theaters since Wednesday? The big budget film highlights for the first time in cinema the Agojie in West Africa in 1823, a singular army since it was one of the few in the world to be exclusively made up of women. These Amazons were feared for their courage, strength, and handling of weapons.

Warriors often without husbands and who gave no quarter to defend the kingdom of Dahomey, in present-day Benin, against neighboring invasions. At the head of this unit, which in reality could number up to 4,000 women, there is a general, Nanisca in the film and played by Viola Davis. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood was passionate about the story of this elite troupe: “I love stories like this that redefine female identity, femininity and its strengths. These are real women who have achieved superhuman feats without being superheroines. I had to wear the story of these women on screen”.

On screen, the viewer will indeed discover the fascinating journey of these soldiers and their rich kingdom. Both did exist. The film crew claims to have worked on sources and with historians. The trailer also shows it: the film is “inspired by real events”. More “The Woman King” is not a documentary, so he takes a few liberties to perfect his script. The production does not hide it and is explained in the presentation elements of the feature film given to the press: “Very few texts have been published on the Agojie and the producers were perfectly aware that the few existing documents were written (at the time) by Europeans whose gaze was subjective and often racist. Therefore, the screenwriter agreed , as did the producers and the director, that the best way to bring out the emotional truth of the Agojie story was through the use of fiction”.

The film effectively reveals their daily life as women, their recruitment and their fearless and blameless commitment in the field. It is true, as in the film, that a father having a hard time with his daughter could deliver her to the king in order to enroll her among the Agojie. “The Woman King” also highlights their contribution to the capture of Africans so that they are then sold as slaves to Europeans. A practice that has truly enabled Dahomey to be armed and prospered. So far, historical facts are respected.

On the other hand, the film shows that the Amazons wanted to change the destiny of Dahomey by fighting the slave trade and its slave traders. “It is killing us little by little”Nanisca alert. Really ? On this specific development of the film, the answer is no according to the historian and writer Sylvia Serbin, author of “Queens of Africa”, a reference work on warriors.

Hero Fiennes-Tiffin plays a Portuguese slave trader in "The female king" (Sony pictures)

“The kingdom of Dahomey is known to have participated most actively and most durably in the slave trade”, she explains to franceinfo. And even when the slave trade was abolished by England in the early 19th century, Dahomey continued in the clandestine trade until Brazil, at the end of the 19th century, abolished slavery.” And the warriors of Dahomey could do nothing about it. “They obeyed, they had no say in how the kingdom was organized. They were executants. When the enemy had to be killed, they killed the enemy. When prisoners had to be brought back to be sold , they brought back prisoners to sell them.”

However, the film is judged as “important” for Sylvia Serbin. “The image conveyed by the international media on black women and African women is one of passivity, of the misery of the world, without leadership in general. And we see with ‘The Woman King’ that in the past there were courageous women who had their place in society and who played an important role.”

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