Editors note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.
The battle to make the historical action film The Woman King started as early as 2015 when producer Cathy Schulman and actress-producer Maria Bello approached Viola Davis about starring in an all-Black female warrior tale. With Davis attached and Sony’s TriStar Pictures onboard, the team offered screenwriter Dana Stevens the chance of a lifetime she couldn’t refuse.
The Woman King, based on a real faction of Beninese female soldiers known as the Agoije, follows its leader Nanisca (Davis) and her fierce tribe of warriors as they defend the kingdom of Dahomey from a violent neighboring clan and Europeans capitalizing on the slave trade. The film also stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, John Boyega and Sheila Atim.
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In creating the screenplay, Stevens and the rest of the crew had to dive into deep research to accurately adapt the world of the Agojie in the 1800s. Stevens worked closely with Princeton historian, economist and Benin scholar Leonard Wantchekon to help the script reflect West African culture, the complex affairs of the Dahomey empire, and the fierce resilience of the Agojie warriors.
“I was struck by the photos of the real warriors, the eye-witness descriptions of their skill,” Stevens said in a press interview. “This story is not well-known—there are so many cultures we have overlooked and not portrayed in films. Here was a chance to tell a true, epic tale about these exceptional women.”
The film premiered at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival and has since garnered awards for Movie of the Year and Best Picture from AFI and the African-American Film Critics Association, respectively.
Read Stevens’ screenplay below.
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