“The Woman King,” a historical epic starring Viola Davis, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The TriStar Pictures release centers on the Agojie, an all-female military regiment tasked with protecting the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. These fighters inspired the Dora Milaje bodyguards that appear in the Black Panther comics and films, and also were depicted in Werner Herzog’s “Cobra Verde,” a fever trip of a flick.
Instead of unveiling its lineup all at once, TIFF has favored a piecemeal approach this time. It has already announced that the likes of Billy Eichner’s rom-com “Bros” and “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” will play at the festival and other Oscar hopefuls are expected to screen in Canada.
In “The Woman King,” Davis stars as General Nanisca, a fierce leader who must train and drill the next generation of recruits in order to prepare them for a clash with an enemy eager to destroy their way of life. In interviews, Davis has said that she threw herself into the part, undergoing rigorous training in martial arts and weight lifting, as well as learning how to wield a machete in order to transform herself into a fighting machine.
“It was a different state of mind to tap into that spirit—that bravery,” Davis told Vanity Fair. “Certainly, that’s not a mindset that I carry on a day-to-day basis. I’m someone who carries pepper spray and a little alarm on my keychain.”
In addition to Davis, the cast includes Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and John Boyega. Gina Prince-Bythewood, who oversaw “Love and Basketball” and “The Old Guard,” directs from a story by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens. Stevens wrote the screenplay. The film was produced by Davis and Bello, along with Cathy Schulman and Julius Tennon. Peter McAleese serves as executive producer. EOne co-financed the picture.