The Woman King‘s highly anticipated arrival to the cinema will hopefully help usher in a new age in Hollywood; one where there is no question of if an all-Black woman cast can carry a film and draw audiences to the theater.
It’s a reality that Viola Davis has long strived for, even when it seemed like a vision almost too far out of reach. As she revealed during ESSENCE’s roundtable discussion with the cast, she barely believed The Woman King would come to pass when the prospect of the film came along. But Davis, who stars in the film as chief warrior Nanisca and also co-produced the project, recognizes that her efforts have paved a lane for the new generation of actresses to skirt around some of the struggles she’s had to face head-on.
“Thuso, Lashana, Shiela, Adrienne, Chioma, Masali, Jayme, Siya – they’re not going to face the same. They’re just emboldened with way too much courage and confidence,” Davis tells ESSENCE exclusively about her The Woman King co-stars. “These are young women who really believe in themselves.”
“I do what I do because I want to leave the crumbs,” she continues.”I believe that that’s the only thing that makes life worthwhile. We talk about generational wealth as legacy. Money doesn’t mean anything if vision and purpose is not behind it.”
Now that she’s broken through the too-often shuttered doors of Hollywood, she’s using her position to take said doors off their hinges for those coming up behind her. Her production company, JuVee Productions, co-run with her husband Julius Tennon, produced The Woman King, with director Gina Prince-Bythewood in the drector’s chair.
“What my husband and I are doing with JuVee is legacy. It’s like they say, you can either leave something for people or you can leave something in people. And, when you leave it in people, it’s way more powerful.”
Thuso Mbedu, who portrays new warrior recruit Nawi, agreed that Davis’ efforts have left room for actresses of her generation to a path featuring more roles, meatier material, and better opportunities.
“We won’t face the same challenges because Viola is still fighting those battles in real-time, and we’re going to benefit from that,” Mbedu says. “It’s twofold. It’s bittersweet, because my biggest thing is, why is she still fighting?”
“Why does she have to fight? She’s fighting because she’s a Black woman,” Mbedu continues. “She’s fighting the hardest because she’s a Black woman and I do not think that is fair. I am grateful that I will benefit from her fight, but why is she fighting?”
The Woman King opens in theaters everywhere on September 16.