‘The Woman King’ Snub and the Oscars’ Continued Disrespect of Black Women
Here we fucking go again.
The nominations for the 95th annual Academy Awards were announced way too early on Tuesday morning — and among the well-deserved nods to Everything Everywhere All at Once and Angela Bassett in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and some surprise nominations for indies like Women Talking and Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie — it was infuriating to watch director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic The Woman King be completely shut out.
The Woman King was more than Oscar bait. Set in 19th-century Africa, the story centers the real-life story of an elite group of female soldiers from the African kingdom of Dahomey. Lead by Viola Davis as a fiery, in-control General Nanisca, the movie balances storylines about betrayal, country, found family, and love without dropping anything, and still manages to keep space for a standout supporting performance by Lashana Lynch.
In a September interview with Rolling Stone, Prince-Bythewood revealed that she felt such a strong emotional connection to a storyline that she broke down in tears while pitching the project. But behind the emotions was a director who did the work. Prince-Bythewood used consultants from Benin, went out of her way to avoid the colonizer version of events, spoke to descendants of the real-life warriors, and even challenged her actresses to do as many in-camera stunts and bulking-up as possible. The costumes not only fit the time period, but do so much work to accurately represent the characters, both as individuals and as a fierce unit.
“Gina loved us passionately — and with any love that you get from anyone, they see you and they trust you,” Davis previously told Rolling Stone. “And that love and trust gives you a safety to be bold and open. She ran the set with respect and honor. For her it wasn’t just about directing a movie. It was about protecting the well-being of every actor on the set.”
And that love and trust is even more apparent in the film’s final product. Davis, already a once-in-a-generation talent, soars in The Woman King. She is a fierce leader, and the camera uses her star power to paint her as a vicious champion. Davis is massive, god-like, but also talented enough to let the emotion behind that raw power bleed into every single line. Even when surrounded by the gore and energy of the battlefield, Davis stands out. Prince-Bythewood skillfully directs her movements, her fights, and her speeches so skillfully it’s easy to imagine entire classes about them.
“Directing is really hard,” Prince-Bythewood told Rolling Stone in September. “It takes stamina. It takes fight. You’ve got to have swagger. I walk on set like I walk on the court. It’s that same thing. You’re the point guard, you’re leading all of this. You have to be the general.”
The Woman King is the perfect representation of what happens when a talented director and exceptional actor are given the resources and support to dedicate their full selves to a project they believe in. Which is why it’s so disappointing to see the Oscars blatantly ignore such an excellent film and set up another “all-male nominee” moment in Best Director. The snub feels even more frustrating alongside the lack of any Black nominees in the Best Actor or Actress sections, including Danielle Deadwyler’s omission for her heartbreaking turn as Mamie Till in Till.
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But isn’t that what we should expect by now?
In the near-century-long history of the Academy Awards, Halle Berry is the only Black woman to have ever won the golden statue for Best Actress. And in the Best Director Category, a Black woman has never even been nominated. The lack of nominations for The Woman King are not a failing of the film — they’re evidence that whatever progress the Academy has been patting itself on the back for remains surface-level at best. The history of the Oscars, and the continued lack of recognition in main categories, proves we are letting Black filmmakers, Black films and Black stories down. And frankly, I’m tired of it.