The Woman King is a powerful story about strength and resilience told from the point of view of the Agojie, the all-female king’s guard of the Dahomey Kingdom, and its writing is as strong as its action sequences. Powerhouse performances by Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, and Thuso Mbedu are anchored in dialogue that speaks to the conflict of a nation still caught in the grips of the slave trade.
From the advice given by General Nanisca to new recruit Nawi to preparing the Agojie for battle against the Oyo Empire, the best quotes from The Woman King are as inspiring today as they were in 19th century West Africa.
“We Have A Weapon They Are Not Prepared For.”
The Dahomey Kingdom still participated in the slave trade during the 19th century and regularly went to war with its neighbors to trade prisoners of war with the Oyo Empire and its Portuguese partners. The Woman King depicts King Ghezo as a man conflicted by what has brought his kingdom wealth, and he refuses to remain a tribute state to the Oyo, sending the Agojie with a message of succession.
This quote opens the movie and instantly instills the Agojie as a formidable force, reinforced by several amazing battle scenes that include them fighting the Oyo. At a time when the rest of West Africa adapted to European warfare with horses and guns, the Agojie still made a strong case for their presence thanks to their skill and lethality in battle.
“Always Obey Izogie.”
Izogie To Nawi
Izogie is the first member of the Agojie that Nawi encounters at the palace, and the stern second-in-command isn’t very impressed with her new recruit. She doesn’t mince words with Nawi but instead tells her exactly what to expect from life as a member of the king’s guard, ending her tour with the most important rule; “Always obey Igozie.”
Far beyond evoking the first rule of Fight Club, this quote is important because many of the things Izogie teaches Nawi form the foundation of the physical and mental fortitude she needs to be one of the Agojie’s fiercest warriors. When Izogie is captured by the Oyo Nawi applies the most important rule, and by always obeying Izogie, repeats Izogie’s own principles back to her and refuses to let her give up on herself or her sisters.
“To Be A Warrior You Must Kill Your Tears.”
General Nanisca To Nawi
In order to become an Agojie, a woman must turn her back on the chance to have a family. She must abstain from marriage and children in order to serve the king and protect her kingdom, relying only on her skills and her sisterhood to survive. General Nanisca is an example of the sort of practical and hardened woman Nawi must become if she hopes to last decades in the king’s guard.
Being nineteen, however, Nawi is still very removed from Nanisca’s cynicism, and doesn’t always understand her motivations. When Nanisca explains to Nawi that there is no room for tears in the Agojie, and that she must be strong and impervious to sorrow, it’s because she doesn’t want her to become overcome by her emotions and make a mistake.
“Are We Learning To Cook? You Are Cutting A Body, Not A Ham.”
Izogie To Agojie Warriors During Training
Izogie and General Nanisca are responsible for training the new Agojie recruits, and they don’t hold back with their critiques. As the young women slice at wooden targets, they scrutinize their every strike, calling out their mistakes in front of the group.
Despite her taciturn demeanor, Izogie actually performs double-duty as a character with a few of her quotes. As intimidating as she can be, she’s also frequently the comic relief, as with this line of dialogue that compares the young women’s strikes to dicing a ham for dinner.
“Fighting Is Not Magic. It Is Skill.”
General Nanisca To Nawi
Growing up, Nawi has heard great tales of the Agojie, equating their fighting abilities with the most powerful magic users. When she sees that they’re just women of flesh and blood instead of powerful witches, she’s disappointed and isn’t afraid to tell General Nanisca this during a private moment.
The general sets her straight when she explains that fighting isn’t magic, but a skill that must be honed. No chanting or special herbs can make up for a lack of efficacy with a spear, sword, or rope. The Agojie have a fearsome reputation because they are just that good in battle, not because of anything supernatural or fake.
“I Did Not Have An Easy Life!”
Nawi To General Nanisca
With a choice between marrying a brutish man twice her age or joining the Agojie, Nawi makes the choice to become a warrior. After living in the palace, she begins to see just how much sacrifice goes into life as in the king’s guard, and she struggles to earn her place among the other new recruits. General Nanisca doesn’t believe young Nawi has what it takes to see it through.
As with any young person wanting to be taken seriously, Nawi refutes Nanisca’s claim that she doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle, and that spending her life on a farm has made her weak. The general’s words light a fire in her, and she begins to find a strength inside her she didn’t even know she had, earning the respect of her peers in the process.
“We Are Agojie. We Do Not Act Alone.”
General Nanisca To Nawi
During a particularly harrowing confrontation with the Oyo, Nawi decides to act on an impulse to protect General Nanisca in a “one versus many” fight scene. While her decision succeeds, she acted alone, which is not the Agojie way. Even after her life has been saved, the general chastises Nawi in front of the other women.
One of the many reasons the Agojie are so successful is that they fight as one unit, adapting to each new military challenge with strength built upon teamwork. Like the Spartans of Greece, they fight for the woman on their right and on their left and thus end up fighting as one unstoppable force. To act alone threatens the strength of the whole unit, and risks jeopardizing lives.
“You Are Powerful. More Than You Even Know. Do Not Give Your Power Away.”
Izogie To Nawi
Izogie acts like an older sister to Nawi, cautioning her about the perils of loving anyone but her fellow Agojie. Inviting the attention of a man is not only forbidden but a distraction from the focus of the unit. She believes “love is weak” because it can usurp a person’s priorities.
This quote speaks to a person who might lose their innate agency once they relent to a partner’s demands. Izogie sees how powerful Nawi is when she is a warrior, and believes if she gives it to Malik, he will diminish her spirit by making her serve only him. Izogie’s words help Nawi see where her focus should lie – on her own desires and aspirations
“You Have The Key. You Decide When The Lock Is Turned.”
Malik To Nawi
Despite being from two different continents and two different worlds, Malik and Nawi end up having feelings for one another. In order to protect Nawi from the Oyo, Malik is forced to purchase her in bondage so that she won’t be taken overseas. When she protests, he assures her that he doesn’t mean to control her.
While Malik physically gives Nawi the key to his chambers and tells her that she can decide when to leave, he’s really reminding her that she is always free to make her own choice. With the Agojie and with him, she has personal liberty
“We Fight Not Just For Today. But For The Future!”
General Nanisca Addressing The Agojie
During their final battle against the Oyo, General Nanisca rallies the Agojie with a speech that encompasses everything they stand for, and what they hope to do in the future. She hopes they will become part of a kingdom that no longer sells its own people, but one that gains its strength through unity, as the Agojie have always done. Fighting for the Dahomey Kingdom is fighting for all of Africa.
This quote brings into Agojie history a recurring theme of agency, while also combining it with a modern theme of unification that hopes to inspire audiences as much as the warriors. Since The Woman King is slightly revisionist in its approach to the history of the Dahomey Kingdom, it’s a way to work around some of its more unsavory actions in the past.
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