The Woman King Beat Sheet Analysis
See how The Woman King hits Blake Snyder’s 15 story beats!
Screenplay by: Dana Stevens
Story by: Maria Bello and Dana Stevens
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Opening Image: A Mahi tribe sits around a campfire, laughing. But their laughter is short-lived, as Agojie general Nanisca (Viola Davis) arrives with her warriors.
Set-Up: After a bloody fight to rescue captive Dahomean women, Nanisca and the rest of the Agojie return to their home, the Kingdom of Dahomey, West Africa.
Theme Stated: As Nanisca comes back home from the raid, the people look down in deference. She is surprised by their happy outlook, though, as she fears an evil is coming. “They know you will protect them,” Amenza (Sheila Atim) tells her. Nanisca must embrace her role in the kingdom, but to do so she must face her fears and overcome them.
Set-Up (Continued): It is 1823, and the kingdom is in the midst of struggle. Among the things that need fixing is that the Oyo Empire is intent on expanding its territory, all while selling off their captives to Portuguese slavers. As Nanisca leads her group of all-female warriors, it’s clear that threats from both inside and outside the continent threaten the beautiful and vibrant paradise that she calls home. Stasis = death, and they cannot remain idle.
For Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), her thesis world is also full of uncertainty. Her father wants to marry her off, but she does not want that life. When a rich man arrives to take her as his wife, Nawi refuses to answer and is slapped by the man.
Theme Stated (Continued): As the rich man walks away, he says, “The whispers were right. This girl is worthless.” Through this journey with Nanisca, Nawi will learn who she is and will see her worth.
Catalyst: Because of her refusal to marry, Nawi is taken by her father and given to the king. This will force her to step up and face the challenges set before her. The stubborn Nawi will also force Nanisca out of her comfort zone.
Debate: As Nawi is left behind by her father, she meets Izogie (Lashana Lynch), who shows her around the palace, including the space where only women are allowed to be. Through Izogie, Nawi learns about the Agojie and what will be expected of her.
Meanwhile, the Oyo general discovers the Mahi village that Nanisca and her warriors rescued the captives from. Finding the totem left behind on a dead Agojie, the general wants revenge.
Nanisca meets with the king and his advisors as they discuss the tribute they must pay to the Oyo. Nanisca is tired of seeing their own people being sold into slavery, noting that they have even done so to trade with the Europeans. While King Ghezo (John Boyega) believes that fear is guiding them, he also knows that the Oyo nation is twice their size and has horses and muskets, placing the enemy at an advantage.
Nanisca suggests growing Dahomey’s economy by selling palm oil, a natural resource, instead of fighting. She’s tired of the cycle of the slave trade, another example of how the kingdom is in a place of stasis = death. Later, Nanisca stands before the new girls who wish to train as Agojie and serve the king. She tells them of the dangers they will face and offers them a chance to leave.
Break into Two: While several girls leave, Nawi stays, firmly deciding that she will become an Agojie warrior.
B Story: As Nanisca heals her wounds in the public bath, Nawi arrives. While Nawi declares that she wishes to serve as a soldier, Nanisca has her doubts, telling her that other obstinate daughters have been dropped off as she has and have failed. Nawi is in awe of Nanisca, believing her fighting to be like magic. “Fighting is not magic; it is skill,” Nanisca tells her. “We will see if you have any.” The relationship between Nawi and Nanisca will help them learn the themes each must discover.
Fun and Games: The promise of the premise is seen in the upside-down antithesis world that Nawi has entered. Nawi trains, learning what it takes to become an Agojie. It’s a different world for Nanisca, too. Nawi challenges her by questioning the training, wondering why they are learning to use a rope instead of a sword. Later, Nawi gets to know Izogie better, finding out that Izogie also did not want to get married and has seen cruelty as well.
After training with swords and guns, Nawi uses some gunpowder to play a trick on the other Agojie; when they hit a training dummy, the gunpowder inside is ignited by the sword’s spark. This stunt brings Nanisca’s rage, but Nawi simply states that you do not need a gun to use gunpowder… only a spark.
That night, Nanisca wakes from a haunting dream, unsure of its meaning. Amenda helps her interpret the dream, stating that enemies are gathering, perhaps something or someone from her past as well. Nanisca is shocked when Oyo general Oba (Jimmy Odukoya) arrives to collect the tribute from the king; she recognizes him as the man who captured and raped her many years ago.
When Oba is dissatisfied with the tribute, he demands that the king give him several Agojie girls. To Nawi’s surprise, the king shockingly seems to agree to the terms, and she is chosen to be one of the tributes. When Nanisca leads the women to the trade post later, Nawi sees Malik (Jordan Bolger), a Portuguese trader. As Nanisca approaches Oba, she gives him the tribute: the heads of some of his men.
A fight breaks out, and while Nanisca takes on Oba, she nearly loses. The women escape, but a blow has been dealt to their pride. Nanisca later shows the king the palm oil production, and he praises her for the idea. “Vision is seeing what others do not,” he tells her.
Walking through the forest, Nawi comes upon Malik as he bathes in the river. The two talk, and she discovers that he is half-Dahomean.
The competition is held for the new Agojie recruits before the king, and Nawi wins.
Midpoint: After the competition, the girls receive treatment for their injuries. As Nanisca helps Nawi, she notices the scar on Nawi’s shoulder. Nawi tells Nanisca that she has always had it, but because she was an orphan, she doesn’t know where it came from. As A and B Stories cross, Nanisca reels from Nawi’s news; she wonders if Nawi is the child she gave up, and the personal stakes raise for her.
Bad Guys Close In: Nawi talks with Malik outside the palace at night, learning that Oyo is raising an army with other tribes. The stakes are raised for Dahomey and a time clock ticks as Nawi tells Nanisca about the impending attack. Nawi is ready to go into battle, brave and fearless, but Nanisca tells her that there is a cost.
Nanisca faces her internal bad guys, telling the story of her rape and how she delivered the baby. When it was born, she made a cut on the child’s shoulder and put a shark tooth inside the wound. Moving closer to Nawi, Nanisca cuts open a mark along Nawi’s scar. In shock, Nawi pulls out a tooth, and is flooded with fear and doubt.
Later, as Nanisca and her warriors scout the Oyo’s location, Nanisca realizes the enemy is moving closer each day. They do not have the weapons to fight these external bad guys, but Nanisca is reminded that gunpowder only needs a spark to ignite. Crafting a clever plan, the warriors create bombs that look like termite mounds, and when the Oyo camp near them, Nanisca sets them ablaze, triggering a chain reaction of explosions within the camp.
The Oyo scream in pain and fear as the Dahomey warriors invade their camp. The warriors ultimately are victorious, but during the fight, Nawi is knocked unconscious and taken by Oyo’s men, along with other Agojie.
At the trade post, Nawi finds Izogie, also captured. They will be sold as slaves, and Izogie faces the fact that she will probably die. Nawi refuses to give in to fear, encouraging Izogie with the same words Izogie told her when she arrived at the palace. The two carry out a plan to escape as they are auctioned off, overthrowing their captors.
Meanwhile, King Ghezo announces that according to Dahomey tradition, he will name Nanisca as the Woman King.
All Is Lost: Having received the news that she will be announced as the Woman King, Nanisca states her intentions to go and free her captive Agogie warriors, knowing her daughter is among them. The king refuses to let her, threatening his anger if she disobeys. At the trading post, Izogie is killed in the struggle, and Nawi despairs. It’s a whiff of death on all sides.
Dark Night of the Soul: Nanisca has the same dream, but this time, she wakes with peace and clarity. She tells Amenza that she knows what she was fighting all along: herself. She was forcing herself to hide all of the pain she endured. The only way she can protect others is to overcome that pain and break into her synthesis world where she embraces her past to fight in the present.
Break into Three: As Nanisca leaves to set off for Nawi and the captives, she knows she is disobeying the king’s orders. She’s not alone, though, as others follow her. At the trading post, Malik “buys” Nawi to save her from being killed.
Finale: Nanisca storms the castle of the trading post, confronting Oba again. This time, she does not give in to fear. Even though he stabs her through the hand, she turns it upon him, defying the pain and stabbing him. Returning home to face King Ghezo, she offers to turn in her sword at a public ceremony. The king, however, announces her as the Woman King, garnering admiration from the people.
Afterwards, she has a heart-to-heart with Nawi, speaking of her pain. Nawi believes that she is the product of that pain and apologizes before walking away. At night, Nanisca watches the Agojie warriors celebrate and dance. Nawi approaches her, asking her mother to dance with her. Through pain, the two have found healing with each other.
Final Image: As the sun rises on a new day, Amenza, Nawi, and Nanisca stand watch, looking out at the ocean, powerful guardians of the Kingdom of Dahomey.