Yes, Hollywood is now obsessed with African anything and yes, it’s often revisionist history and sanitized depictions for the sake of easier mass consumption, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be excited on some level about finally curving out space in popular media.
With ‘Woman King’, we got to watch the triumphs of the Agoodjies, the women warriors of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey in today’s Benin, West Africa. But the film garnered a lot of criticism from all quarters. It was berated for filming in South Africa thereby erasing the landscapes and geographical significance of the people the movie is based on and the USA’s far right couldn’t condone the visuals of black women killing white men. But the biggest issues stemmed from the film’s purification of the Dahomey kingdom, by failing to properly portray its role in the slave trade and its historically savage culture.
It was still thrilling to see a strong female cast of predominately African and diasporan actresses and some similarly notable male performers. Two things can be true, that the movie should not have been greenlit considering its glaring falsehoods and that we may not have seen a story about Africa’s might otherwise. Let alone a story about the sheroes of the past.
This last part is why the upcoming Netflix series, ‘African Queens’ is on the watchlist. The streaming site, and executive producer and series narrator Jada Pinkett Smith are bringing to life the female matriarchs that shaped post-colonial Africa.
The season one trailer shows that Angola’s Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba will be the first ruler in focus. She is revered among Angolans as a resilient leader who fought against the Portuguese and their expanding slave trade in Central Africa. In 1627, after forming alliances with former rival states, she led her army against the Portuguese, initiating a thirty-year war against them. Despite repeated attempts by the Portuguese and their allies to capture or kill Queen Nzinga, she died peacefully in her eighties on December 17, 1663.
The show that was given two seasons will blend dramatization with factual recounts from historians in four, 45-minute episodes each season.
Speaking about the project, Smith said in a statement, “There are so many stories to be told in regard to the Black experience globally. I think that it’s important to tell the stories now because we can and haven’t always been able to. Even though there’s a lot more work to do, we’re at a place now where we have the ability and the opportunity to tell stories that have been forgotten as well as the stories that are part of our everyday lives, and what a gift that is.”
“It’s a testament to standing on the shoulders of all of those that came before us that didn’t have the opportunities that we have but were part of carving out the path for all of us to get to where we are today. African Queens is in honor of that.” She added.
Speaking exclusively to Deadline ahead of a London screening, EP Maxine Watson, who has worked on some of Britain’s biggest factual hits and was a BBC commissioner whose credits include Who Do You Think You Are?, The Great Pottery Throw Down and A House Through Time, said recent blockbusters have created a landscape in which shows like African Queens can flourish.
“Now is a wise time to launch as The Woman King and Wakanda Forever have made it easier for Netflix to tell this story,” She said. “I don’t think modern TV has even scratched the surface of these stories. You have to ask yourself why we don’t know nearly as much about Queen Njinga as we do about, say, Queen Elizabeth I,” she added.
Season two will spotlight historical favourite Queen Cleopatra. “Cleopatra was the obvious one to start with but Njinga is revered by Angolans and yet you barely know her name,” explained Watson. “That made her feel a really good candidate.”
This upcoming show, written by Kenyan-born storyteller Peres Owino and British diplomat NneNne Iwuji will premiere globally on February 15th.