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Letter: Beyond ‘The Woman King,’ ‘The Queen of Katwe’ adeptly depicts an African story

In this image released by Disney, Lupita Nyong'o, right, and Madina Nalwanga appear in a scene from "Queen of Katwe." (Edward Echwalu/Disney via AP)

As a historian, I often have mixed feelings about historical films. As an Africanist historian and a woman, I have had the same feelings about “The Woman King.” It was exhilarating to see the historical Kingdom of Dahomey and its elite female warriors brought to life. Their strength, cunning, and power was inspiring. Still, it is highly unlikely the Agojie were the feminist abolitionists we wish them to have been (see “The Real Warriors Behind ‘The Woman King’” and “A kingdom’s ransom”).

I have another worry about the film. While it depicted actual kingdoms and female warriors, what if that is the only story American audiences envision of the African past? We have Black Panther movies that portray Afrofuturism, but these are Hollywood imaginings of a fictional Africa.

One of my goals as a professor of African Studies is to provide a fuller picture with a diversity of images and stories from Africa. As I thought about what other films could accompany “The Woman King,” I thought of another African royalty film, “The Queen of Katwe.” Less well-known, this film is remarkably successful in depicting an African story (especially considering it is Disney-made). It is successful because it depicts a Ugandan story, within its specific context, with all its diversity. The heroes are Ugandans, the challenges are Ugandan, we see poor and rich Ugandans. Unlike white savior films the only line spoken by a European is “Welcome to Russia.” As a pacifist, I also like the idea of young women finding inspiration in Phiona Mutesi, an actual person who discovered her intellect and used it to uplift her whole family.

You should go see “The Woman King.” It’s a compelling film. But might I suggest you also watch “Queen of Katwe” to continue your strong African women film journey?

Leslie Hadfield, Provo

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