Viola Davis' The Woman King First Look Photos Released

While audiences all over the world have become enamored with the Dora Milaje female warriors of Wakanda, actress Viola Davis (The Suicide Squad) will be bring the story of real-life African warrior women to the screen in The Woman King. Today, first-look photos from The Woman King are out, and they show Davis and her supporting cast of actresses looking every bit like the Agojie army of West Africa's kingdom of Dahomey, a dynasty that has largely been forgotten by history – until now. 

The Agojie defended Dahomey (now known as Benin) in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and were named the "Dahomey Amazons," by Western explorers, due to their similarity to the Amazons of myth. The female military regiment was created out of necessity after Dahomey's male population declined due to constant warfare with neighboring states and the slave trade, which demanded annual sacrifices of able-bodied males to oppressive powers like the Oyo Empire. 

The kings of Dahomey compensated for the losses by recruiting females into military service. At first, the women were deployed as elephant hunters; when the daughter of King Houegbadja took the throne as Queen Hangbe, she established a female line of bodyguards. Hangbe's successors (history gets a bit murky) steadily transformed that bodyguard unit into a female army over the next century and a half. 

Viola Davis will play General Nanisca, a leader of the Agojie; Johnb Boyega will star as King Ghezo, the ruler credited with transforming the Agojie into a full-fledged army, during a militaristic age in Dahomey. 

"I've never had a role like this before. It's transformative," Davis told Vanity Fair.  "And to be a producer on it, and to know that I had a hand in bringing it to fruition.... I knew what it would mean to us as Black people. Something that has never been done before. And what it would mean for Black women sitting in that movie theater. The responsibility is really high."

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(Photo: Sony Pictures)

"We didn't want to show them as just one thing-badass women who killed," adds director Gina Prince-Bythewood. "They also laughed and loved and cried. We wanted to show their full humanity, not just the cool part that that would look good in a trailer."

As for the "novelty" of audiences seeing African women as military action heroes, The Woman King may end up getting a boost from the fictional heroes they inspired: Black Panther's Dora Milaje. But for Prince-Bythewood, recreating reality is going to be much better than fantasy: "If you can digest Avatar, then you can digest this."

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The Woman King hits theaters on September 16th. It also stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Adrienne Warren, Sheila Atim, Jayme Lawson, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin.