Viola Davis Responds to ‘Boycott Woman King’ Controversy

Viola Davis and Lashana Lynch in The Woman King

Viola Davis and Lashana Lynch in The Woman King
Photo: Sony Pictures

Over the weekend, despite no recognizable IP address, franchise connections, or a large fighter jet, The female king climbed to the top of the box office with a $19 million opening. It was an unlikely success that may not be as stellar as Avengers: Endgameis a $300 million opening, but it’s exciting to have an original action epic at the top of the box office for a change. You don’t even have to see another movie before you see The female king.

However, those who had read about the Kingdom of Dahomey before the film had some worries. The Kingdom of Dahomey, which The female king tells a mostly fictional account of, was involved in the slave trade, and the film’s online critics accused its portrayal of whitewashing and glorifying slavers. Talk with VarietyDavis and her co-star, producing partner and husband Julius Tennon defended the film, first expressing the futility of arguing with people on social media.

“I agree with [director] Gina Prince-Bythewood’s saying is you’re not going to win an argument on Twitter,” Davis said. “We entered history where the kingdom was in a state of flux, at a crossroads. They were looking to find a way to keep their civilization and their kingdom alive. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were decimated. Most of the story is fictionalized. It must be.

Tennon went on to describe the film as “educational entertainment”, insisting that the production must “entertain people” because otherwise, “It would be a documentary.” If the movie didn’t entertain, then people wouldn’t be in theaters doing the same thing we saw this weekend. We didn’t want to run away from the truth. The story is huge and there are truths about it that are there. If people want to know more, they can investigate further.

Ultimately, Davis insists the film examines women who have been forced into fights or faced death. “They were recruited between the ages of eight and 14,” Davis said. “They were recruited by the King to fight for the kingdom of Dahomey. They were not allowed to marry or have children. Those who refused the call were beheaded.

Davis doesn’t seem too concerned about criticism. Earlier this year, she responded to calls for a boycott: “Don’t come see it, then, you’re sending a message that a black woman can’t run a global box office and you’re supporting that narrative.“But talking with Variety, she focused on the positivity she felt in delighting the audience. “I saw a TikTok video today of women in an AMC theater bathroom, and I don’t think they knew each other. They were all singing and ruminating. It can’t be quantified in words.

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