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An Old Story of Heroism and Feminism

When French soldiers tried to colonise the west African kingdom of Dahomey, they encountered a foe unlike any they had faced before. The Agojie were known for raiding villages, taking captives and cutting off the head of anyone who resisted. And they were made up entirely of women.

“The French were shocked,” Professor Leonard Wantchekon, a leading Agojie scholar, says by phone from Princeton University in New Jersey. “They knew about them before but they didn’t know they were such effective soldiers, so brave, so strong.”

That France, supposedly the cradle of the Enlightenment, was backward in its essentialist views of gender is just one of the political blows landed by The Woman King, a new $50m historical epic that tells the Agojie’s story, though most of the characters are fictional.

The film is made largely by women and features an almost entirely Black cast. It is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and stars Oscar winner Viola Davis as a general who trains the next generation of fighters. Davis told the Reuters news agency: “It’s our story. There is no white saviour in the movie. There’s none. We save ourselves.”

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