Legend of Dahomey Women Warriors Retold: Lupita and Davis to Star

Black Panther

Many legends thrive in African folklore. However, most of them were not documented but passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. Following current interest in the African story by film makers, the legend of the Dahomey women warriors has been reborn. A movie is in the making to retell this amazing story based on recorded accounts about the largest women army ever. To star in the movie will be the high-flying Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis.

Dahomey is the historical name of the current Benin. The kingdom is famed for having at least 6,000 revered women warriors serving under King Glele at any one time. The warriors were mostly ambidextrous and were good with the knife, carbine and club, decimating enemies, conquering territories and countering armies of men until when they were vanquished by the French colonists who attacked with superior weaponry.

Other women warriors

While this legend of the Dahomey women warriors has written accounts, very few other accounts exist of women warriors. Among those are Mekatilili wa Menza, the fearsome Giriama prophetess who led rebellion against British occupiers in the early twentieth century (1913-14) in Kenya. She was incarcerated by the colonists for five years and later released, but this did not deter her determination to organize dissident among her people till her death in 1925.

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Nzinga Matamba had risen earlier on in the seventeenth century against Portuguese occupation of Angola. She is infamous for drinking the blood of captured sacrificial victims as well as helping thrive the slave trade. She was always ready for military confrontation especially with foreign occupiers.

Denzel Washington
Image credit: Variety

The Woman King

The title of the film will be The Woman King. Viola Davis’s character will star as the mother of Lupita Nyongo’s character’s. It will reignite the fierce warrior roles that Lupita plays in the record breaking fantastical Black Panther. The world will be introduced to an all-women army that conquers enemies and repels colonisers to save an ancient kingdom.

Before this film, Lupita will have already starred in the adaptation of Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime.

Can Kenya seize the opportunities?

This is the question that enthusiasts in the Kenyan creative industry are asking themselves. Can Kenya capitalize on the ascension of Lupita Nyong’o and create a robust film industry, even by providing locations? The 1985 multiple award-winning film, Out of Africa, which was based on the life of Karen Blixen, was entirely shot in Kenya. The film won a record seven academy awards. Other films made in Kenya were The Constant Gardener, and Nowhere in Africa (won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001), but that’s pretty the sum of it all. Portions of other films, including Sense 8, have also been shot in Kenya.

However, many other films which were initially set to be shot in Kenya were moved to South Africa which offers favourable conditions for film makers. The irony is that these movies actually depict Kenya in their storylines. They include The Journey is the Destination, Eye in the Sky, Inception, and The Ghost and the Darkness, a film based on the man-eating lions of the Tsavo.

Feature image credit: CGTN