“The Woman King’s” White writers may have missed an essential truth about a Black story. Dana Stevens, left, wrote the movie’s screenplay from a tale she wrote with Maria Bello, right.
by Michael Coard
First of all, let’s cut straight to the chase: racist American White folks want to blame victimized African Black folks for racist European White folks’ kidnapping, shackling, transporting, auctioning, separating, enslaving, whipping, beating, raping, castrating, lynching and legislatively and judicially dehumanizing Black folks.
But “The Woman King” ignores White European blameworthiness for the initiation, the spread, and the institutionalization of the enslavement of Africans.
Black people in Africa didn’t invent the Middle Passage, which Portugal began in 1517 and during which over 12 million Africans were forcibly transported in shackles across the Atlantic Ocean as part of the triangular “slave trade” that operated from Europe to Africa to the Americas. White people in Europe invented it.
As documented by the Lowcountry Digital Initiative, which is a public history project hosted at the College of Charleston in South Carolina,
“The trans-Atlantic ‘Slave’ trade was the largest long-distance forced movement of people in recorded history. From the sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries, over twelve million (some estimates run as high as fifteen million) African men, women, and children were enslaved, transported to the Americas, and brought and sold … as chattel property ….”
But “The Woman King,” which begins its fictionalized story 306 years later in 1823, ignores Portugal as that inventor.
Black people in Africa didn’t create “chattel” slavery in America in 1619. White people in America did.
It happened following continuous raids into Angola by Portuguese troops beginning in 1617, after which in 1619 they militarily invaded the village of Ndongo in the state of Luanda and loaded 350 of those Kimbundu-speaking Angolans aboard the European “slave ship” Sao Joao Bautista before sailing toward what is now known as Vera Cruz, Mexico. After that “slave” ship began sailing, it was attacked and robbed by an English pirate ship called the Treasurer together with a Dutch pirate ship called the White Lion. And approximately 30 who had been loaded on the White Lion as stolen cargo from the Bautista arrived shackled at Old Point Comfort, Va. as the first enslaved Africans in British Colonial America.
But “The Woman King” didn’t mention any of that.
By the way, “chattel” slavery is a White European thing, not a Black African thing. Although African nations did engage in warfare with other African nations and did hold many of their conquered foes as prisoners of war and a small minority of those conquering nations did trade or sell their conquered foes to other African nations as well as to Europeans, they assumed that those traded or sold foes would be treated like Africans treat prisoners of war.
In other words, those conquered foes would keep their name, language and religion. Laws wouldn’t be passed to dehumanize them. Their “prison” sentence wouldn’t be a lifetime. Their offspring and their offspring’s descendants wouldn’t be imprisoned and enslaved. The punishment wouldn’t last for about 350 years.
That type of punishment, that type of enslavement is chattel slavery. As Jean Allain in “The Legal Definition of Slavery into the Twenty-First Century” points out, chattel slavery is the type of bondage wherein the victim and the victim’s descendants are legally determined to be inanimate property with no rights whatsoever.
Black people in Africa aren’t prospering today because of that “slave” trade. White people in Europe and America are.
For example, Richard Drayton, in a scholarly British essay, entitled “The Wealth of the West was Built on Africa’s Exploitation,” notes that various experts’ assertions that Britain’s debt to Africa is in the trillions of dollars is a “useful benchmark” but is mistaken “not because it is excessive but because the real debt is incalculable.”
But “The Woman King” made no reference to that.
Black people in Africa didn’t invade their own continent with guns and force other nations to enslave their own neighbors or to be enslaved themselves. Black people didn’t even have guns until Europeans brought those new high-powered weapons to the Motherland and used them to murder Africans for their precious minerals and also used them to force Africans to enslave their neighbors with those guns or to be enslaved themselves.
But “The Woman King” never said a word about that historical and technological truth. However, a documentary that I’ll tell you about at the end of this article will thoroughly expose the “divide and conquer” trickery and futuristic weaponry used by Europeans against Africans.
I’m not calling for a boycott of “The Woman King” and that’s because I love the strong Black woman message it sends. And I love what it says to and shows little Black girls. But it didn’t need to uplift Black women and Black girls by telling a half-assed story about Black Africa.
But that’s what many White people – even allegedly well-intentioned white people like “The Woman King’s” story/screenplay writer Dana Stevens and story writer Maria Bello – often do.
Instead of relying on White folks to tell Black folks’ story, rely on Black folks to do it themselves. And start by learning the real story of the real African women kings/warriors by logging on to the 38 minute YouTube documentary by scholarly Africans entitled “The Dahomey Kingdom” at https://youtu.be/G93TsdYFgoY.
Know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
Ignore white lies. Embrace Black truth.