Viola Davis has said she wants her new film The Woman King to encourage people to “tap into the warrior spirit in them”.
The film is inspired by the true story of the Agojie, an all-female army who fought to protect the west African kingdom of Dahomey with their formidable skills.
Oscar-winner Davis, 57, stars as general Nanisca, who trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life.
Speaking on the red carpet of the film’s UK premiere in central London, Davis told the PA news agency: “My big thing is that the message is up to you, whatever you receive, however it hits your heart and your spirit.
“I always want people to tap into the warrior spirit in them. I talk about that a lot. That part of you that hits that road in life and you have to figure out a way to survive.
“And especially as women in this day and time, and everybody is trying to control our lives and we’ve been told that we’re less than.
“Then tap into that inner power and that inner warrior fuel. That’s a great message.”
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film features a star-studded cast including John Boyega, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim and Thuso Mbedu.
Reflecting on fronting the cast of predominantly Black women, Davis said this level of representation needs to continue to progress as she feels it can “elevate cinema to a level that it’s never been elevated to”.
She said: “There’s lots of stories from incredible black artists out there who want to work and want to show you what they can do.
“The only thing they need is an opportunity. And I think that it can elevate cinema to a level that it’s never been elevated.”
The film has faced criticism since its release as some have argued it minimises the real kingdom of Dahomey’s role in the slave trade.
Davis said: “Most of the people who have that criticism have not seen the movie… but most of the people who have seen the movie have seen that we have addressed it.”
Star Wars actor Boyega, who plays King Ghezo, said he feels the “loyalty and duality” between the men and the women in the film is particularly important.
He told PA that the scenes demonstrating the men working alongside the female warriors shows “what happens when we all believe in our ability to be powerful and to believe in our ability to achieve things and to support each other in the right way”.
“Human beings can be so motivated when we are of the right mind and we get together, we can do some incredible things. And I think this movie represents that point,” he said.