King Ghezo, played in the film by actor John Boyega, ”only agreed to end Dahomey’s participation in the slave trade in 1852, after years of pressure by the British government, which had abolished slavery [for not wholly altruistic reasons] in its own colonies in 1833,” Smithsonian Magazine reported.
Although the British influence to end slavery wasn’t covered in the movie, nor should it have been, the film did touch on Dahomey’s participation in the slave trade and its history exploring alternatives to slavery such as palm oil production, however short-lived.
What the film did not do is accurately depict the extent to which Dahomey participated in the slave trade, opting instead to portray African female warriors as fierce and perseverant. I’ll admit it’s a choice I thoroughly appreciated considering the fact that the American education system seldom introduces students to depictions of Black people that go beyond slavery or the civil rights movement.
As a descendant of slaves, I don’t have access to information about who my earliest ancestors were before they were captured and forced to migrate to America, so I appreciate films that inspire me to wonder about who they might have been. They certainly weren’t always slaves.
My personal feelings about the film aside, it was never intended to be the sole primary source of information about the kingdom of Dahomey, and to hold the work of art to that standard is unfair.
“I learned early on you cannot win an argument on Twitter. And I know all of that is going to go away once they see the film. There’s an assumption we’re not dealing with it and we are dealing with it,” Prince-Bythewood told IndieWire during an interview mentioning the movie’s depiction of the Dahomey as slave-traders. “So I have to live in that confidence.”
Cathy Schulman, who produced the film along with Maria Bello, Davis, and her husband Julius Tennon, told IndieWire she wishes more people would see the film before discussing it. “The fact is that slavery is driven by material gain,” Schulman said. “It offered up people on this continent an option to make money that should not have been offered up or forced upon them. And, once it was, it created all sorts of internal conflict, and we don’t hesitate in visiting that within the film.”
Schulman said she is a “big believer that information is power, and I think that understanding issues surrounding slavery from the standpoint of the African perspective is relevant.”
She added: “We look at it most of the time from what happened once these people were enslaved and were actually landing here in America versus what was going on on the other side.”