Main menu


The Queen: The Truth About Slavery | Arts and Culture

featured image

When the musical film Black is King was released in 2020, African audiences and some critics said it denigrated and distorted the culture and history of the continent.

They described the African-centric portrayal as “Wakanda-esque”. This is a reference to the fictional East African country popularized by Black Panther, his seminal 2018 film about black superheroes.

Directed and written by American singer Beyoncé, who was also executive producer, “Black is King” is Disney’s emphasis on “traditional beauty and black excellence” and “always on, black people.” Family Voyage”.

But much like the Black Panthers, the incredible and unnecessary impression that in pre-colonial Africa (probably a rich and stylish black utopia), African men and women were simply majestic kings and queens. Of course, many loved Beyoncé’s 85-minute film, despite its extravagant efforts at unnatural Blackness, and some critics called it It called it “a breath of fresh air” that “celebrates the places, styles and music of Africa.”

Fast forward to September 2022. Africa and the African diaspora have equally captivating and controversial films, marveling at The Woman King.

Produced by Academy Award winner Viola Davis and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film is about the Agoziers, the women’s legions who defended the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) in the 1800s.

The 6,000-strong regiment reportedly departed as the palace guard around 1700, and its combatants formally married the king as third wife. At the time, Agozieh was the only female soldier in the world to have fought in a war.

But here’s the problem. They often participated in slave raids as well.

Dahomey was wealthy and prospered by selling slaves to European merchants. King Gezo, who ruled the kingdom from 1818 to his 1858, declared the slave trade to be the “source and glory” of the nation’s wealth.

However, to the detriment of African history, the Queen hides Dahomey’s participation in the Atlantic slave trade from 1715 to 1850.

This suggests that Dahomey was an anti-slavery kingdom, which in fact was not. The film also portrays Agojie as freedom fighters, but they were ordinary soldiers who captured and sold slaves.

It’s essentially a deeply sanitized version of the dark truths about slavery and 19th-century Africa, brimming with sweet, melodramatic nostalgia for Africa-centric fantasy.

Julian Tennon, Davis’ husband and co-producer of The Woman King, defended the film’s serious flaws, claiming: we have to entertain people. ”

Throughout the history of the industry, Hollywood directors and producers have largely refused to make films that accurately portray slavery, as seen in The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind.

Django Unchained, a 2012 revisionist Western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, lacks nuance in its portrayal of slavery. Lincoln, released the same year, suggests that not blacks fought to end slavery, but whites. Meanwhile, his 2013 Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave has faced criticism for “failing to express black resistance to slavery.”

When Hollywood producers like Davis decide they don’t need facts about slavery, they lose credibility.

Their work is a far cry from the dark and difficult times when the truth about slavery was important to African-American narrators. From the 1830s to the 1890s, former slaves used their experiences to shed light on the horrific realities of slavery, humanize it, and build support for its abolition.

Consider Frederick Douglass’s 1845 book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Or Harriet Jacobs in his 1861 classic A Case in the Life of a Slave Girl. These accounts presented the brutal realities of slavery in a raw and unblemished way.

According to the University of North Carolina’s National Center for the Humanities, “a fugitive, emancipated, or ‘former’ slave narrator emphasizes suffering under a cruel master and the strength of his will to free himself.” I was expected to give precise details of my experience of being bound.”

Storytellers, by nature, had to be honest. terribly honest.

Today, the ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement calls for Hollywood writers, producers, and executives, whether Black, Brown, or White, to pay attention to detail, and that both Europeans and Africans We are demanding not to create revisionist narratives that try to mitigate the crimes committed. Atlantic slave trade.

Africans sold other Africans into slavery. You can’t bend or avoid that ridiculously important detail. Of course, it should not be weaponized to minimize or dismiss the liability of European slave traders.

Seeking a false but comforting narrative that might appeal to a “universal” audience, including whites, Davis sought to capture and sell people to Africans by erasing Dahomie’s slave-trading credentials. We are unable to provide reimbursement.

Admittedly, the history of Dahomey, and Agoggy in particular, is exceptional and undeniably fascinating, but as Black people it shouldn’t undermine our shared commitment to spreading the truth in our stories.

Let’s not forget that many pre-colonial African countries opposed the slave trade. For example, Nginga Mbemba (1446–1543), who ruled the Kingdom of Congo, wrote a letter in 1526 to King João III of Portugal demanding an end to the illegal depopulation of his kingdom. His successor, Garcia II, did the same, but with less success. Other states that resisted the slave trade include Futa Toro and Futa Jalon in West Africa.

The artistic fusion of African history and capitalism could serve as an ideal platform for informative, action-packed and thought-provoking films and for establishing conversations about the African continent, black people and slavery. I have.

But The Woman King wastes an opportunity to creatively explore a pivotal period in African history. Davies’ tendency to surrender to wild romanticism (instead of basic facts) has an incredible impact on an African society ravaged by slavery and the memory of the 12 million souls sent abroad. bring disadvantages.

Black is King, Black Panther and Woman King demonstrate an obsession and relentless determination to escape reality and reconstruct Africa’s past. It’s time to respect the fact that Africa has a rich, vibrant and incomplete history.

In 2020, Davis sarcastically asked:

black people. So should filmmakers who claim to speak for Africa.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial attitude of Al Jazeera.