Photo credit: Shewanda Riley

By Shewanda Riley

“Do not give away your power.” This is just one of the thought-provoking lines from the box office hit The Woman King. These words were spoken by Izogie, one of the veteran agojie warriors to one of the newest warrior trainees, Nawi. From the beginning of her entrance into the training program, Izogie takes the time to answer questions that Nawi asks, and she also teaches her lessons about how to survive life on and off the battlefield. In this instance, Izogie was warning Nawi about how love, especially if it becomes a distraction, can put you in a position where you give away your emotional and mental power.

The first time I saw The Woman King, I didn’t grasp the depth of that line. I admit that I was so in awe of the battlefield scenes that I didn’t realize until after I saw the movie the second time the power of the movie’s dialogue. I don’t necessarily want to do a movie review as there are many people who have already provided their thoughts about how The Woman King excels as a piece of cinematic art. However, the aunt and scholar in me wants to look at it from the “auntastic” perspective and study how the movie shows the intersections of strength and sisterhood.

For starters, the movie depicted the power and strength of the black woman. This was shown when the agojie returned victoriously from battle. The people in Dahomey were instructed not to look at the female warriors as they walked back to the palace as a sign of respect. In another scene, Nanisca [Viola Davis] is called dirty and battle worn by one of King Ghezo’s younger and attractive wives.  Instead of allowing this difference to become a superficial focus of the movie with Nanisca focusing on her own external appearance, she remains focused on being a strategic military leader. In doing so, the movie emphasizes how the inner strength and strategic intelligence of a woman can be more influential and attractive than her outward beauty.

On a more basic level, The Woman King illustrated how the depth of transformation that comes with compassionate mentoring.  It [mentoring] wasn’t easy because Nawi was one of the newest recruits and was headstrong. She was constantly being corrected by Nanisca and Izogie for trying to do things on her own and not listening to her older, more experienced female mentors. She finally gets the lesson at the end about the importance of sisterhood.

As an aunt, I appreciated how the movie showed that women were intentional about creating a welcoming, safe but challenging community that demanded the best from each woman whether she was a trainee or whether she was a veteran warrior. Izogie reminded Nawi often that she was a part of sisterhood with rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Even though the agojie were single and childless by choice, the movie was a compelling visual demonstration of the importance of being teachable and self-controlled from Titus 2:3-5.

Shewanda Riley (Aunt Wanda), PhD, is a Fort Worth-based author of “Love Hangover: Moving from Pain to Purpose After a Relationship Ends” and “Writing to the Beat of God’s Heart: A Book of Prayers for Writers.”   Email her at or follow her on Twitter @shewanda.   You can also listen to her podcast at