‘The Woman King’ Beats Box Office Expectations As African Slave Trade Debate Heats Up

‘The Woman King’ Beats Box Office Expectations As African Slave Trade Debate Heats Up

Woman King

TriStar Pictures

Despite the controversy and calls to boycott the Black women-led film “The Woman King,” the Viola Davis-produced Hollywood movie topped the box office for the weekend starting Sept. 16.

TriStar/eOne movie, in which Davis also stars and is directed by a Black filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood, came in with higher-than-expected numbers, boasting a $19 million opening, Deadline reported.

There was a major push–and pressure–for movie fans to support the effort.

 “If you don’t come to see it, then you’re sending a message that Black women can’t lead the box office globally,” Davis said.

The film is based on the real-life all-women Agojie warriors who defended the West African kingdom Dahomey during the 18th and 19th centuries. Dahomey is present-day Benin. The controversy kicks in when you look at the history of the Dahomey empire.

The western African kingdom was formed by a mixture of various local ethnic groups, according to Black History Month. Dahomey became a major regional power in the 1720s when it conquered other coastal kingdoms and this led to it being a major center in the Atlantic Slave Trade until 1852 when the British imposed a naval blockade to stop the trade.

But before the blockade, Dahomey had grown rich on the slave trade. It prospered from the sale of slaves to the Europeans, Britannica reported. Slaves were either sold to the Europeans in exchange for weapons or kept to work the royal plantations.

Some thought the film should have delved more deeply into this issue. Others argue, the film was focused on the female warriors.

The film studio, Sony (TriStar is part of Sony) did heavy marketing for the movie.

The social media universe for “The Woman King” stands at 123.8 million, Deadline reported.

Black moviegoers turned out at 59 percent for the film, while white moviegoers were at 19 percent, Latino and Hispanic at 12 percent, and Asian/other at 10 percent. Best markets for the movie were New York City, Atlanta, DC, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Philly, Miami, Baltimore, Orlando, Detroit, and Tampa.

Women turned out in droves with 60 percent of the filmgoers being female.

While New Yorker writer Julian Lucas admitted it was “about time for a major film on a kingdom like Dahomey,” he stressed the lack of transparency about the slave trade history of the Dahomey.

He notes that there are only “allusions are made to Dahomey’s participation in the slave trade.”

“The Woman King” “chooses to make resistance to slavery its moral compass, then misrepresents a kingdom that trafficked tens of thousands as a vanguard in the struggle against it,” wrote Lucas.

“The Woman King,” Sony Pictures / Slave mother and daughter on the auction block in the US South. Hand-colored woodcut of a 19th-century illustration. (North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images)