The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lit up Toronto at the start of September with festivities and celebrity sightings. This world renowned festival is known for bringing a surge of celebrities, artistic films and hot ticket events to the city. Twitter Canada hosted an honest Q & A panel called #TakeUpSpace, offering genuine insight into the representation of blackness in films from the perspective of the cast of The Woman King, starring Viola Davis, as lead actress and producer.
Mademoiselle Raw Bar + Grill, located on King Street West, was the backdrop for this interactive and profoundly celebratory lens of dark skinned black women and men in film. The cast on-hand for this Q & A included actress and producer, Davis, who plays the head of the all female Dahomey warriors, Nanisca. Davis is a veteran actress, who has graced our screens for more than 20 years. Thuso Mbedu – who recently played Cora in the Amazon original mini series, The Underground Railroad, plays Nawi in The Woman King. Mbedu is a South African actress, making a name for herself, with acting, producing and directing credits. Lashana Lynch plays the warrior, Izogie. Lynch is everywhere! From Doctor Strange to Captain Marvel, she is taking over Hollywood. One of Lynch’s most iconic roles is as the quick witted, perfectionist and first Black female 007, in 007: No Time to Die – starring Daniel Craig. To round out the cast present, Sheila Atim, the Ugandan native, has had her fair share of success lately with her snagging memorable roles in Doctor Strange Multiverse of Madness (where she also played a badass warrior) and she worked alongside Mbedu, in Amazon’s The Underground Railroad. John Boyega, who plays King Ghezo, was the solo brotha! He is widely recognized for his role in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens where he plays Finn. Boyega added an extra special layer of comical and personable quips.
The Woman King is one of a kind. It is not often that a big budget film features an all black, dark skinned cast of strong women. Considering this dynamic, The Woman King is resonating with audiences from all cultural backgrounds in its celebration of blackness and a perspective into black history which highlights more than the traumas of slavery. This story offers its audience a new perspective on the strength, beauty and integrity of African warriors, specifically, the Dahomey tribe.
The #TakeUpSpace event was unique in that it gave room for a necessary conversation about blackness in films. The panel discussed colourism and the benefits of having fellow cast and crew who racially identify with them working together on this film. Lynch offered the level of comfort on set far-reached what is typically customary; the cast and crew felt empowered by the bonds they developed on set. She noted, “scenes that are normally triggering became easier to handle, as we all understood the impact of the scenes as black people. It was just a different dynamic.” Davis further offered, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, often joined the cast during workouts which offered another level of synergy within the cast. Davis also noted the success of this movie fosters more space for stories where the hero/heroine are not the quintessential figures of colonial beauty standards. When they said they were here to take up space, they weren’t lying; Black is beautiful and the cast of The Woman King is here to declare, celebrate and honour that.
The Woman King is currently playing in theatres worldwide. Join in this important conversation with #TakeUpSpace #TheWomanKing #TorontoGuardian.