Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning actress Viola Davis stars in ‘The Woman King.’ (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 06 October 2022

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
  • Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis and other stars discuss their groundbreaking historical epic
  • The film is set to be released in Gulf cinemas on Oct. 6

DUBAI: In the 26 years since she debuted on the screen, 57-year-old American actress Viola Davis has become the only Black American to win the Triple Crown of acting — an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, had her star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has even been named by the New York Times as one of the top 10 actors of the century. Never, though, has she been prouder of a film than she is of “The Woman King.”

“For the first time in my career, I had agency — agency to be able to control the narrative for myself, to have a character that reflected me,” Davis tells Arab News. “It’s a story in which I don’t have to make my blackness disappear in order to make the role work. It meant freedom — that’s what it’s meant.” 

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), “The Woman King” is the sort of film that many have called for for decades — a historical epic in the style of “Braveheart” or “Gladiator” that centers on the story of African leaders. It is set in the real-life West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823 and focuses on General Nanisca (Davis), the woman who would become Dahomey’s ‘king.’ 

For Bythewood, it’s the film she had been dreaming of making all her career. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve always wanted to make our ‘Braveheart.’ So when the script came, I thought this might be the chance to do it,” says Bythewood.




Julius Tennon and Viola Davis attend a special screening of ‘The Woman King’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Getting it made, however, was anything but easy. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, fought for seven years, with Bythewood coming in during the last year to help assemble a cast that was worthy of such an ambitious project. 

“To get from that desire to a green light is a lot. It’s a lot of fight. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of casting. But I feel like it just happened at the right time. And certainly, I feel like all my work up until this point got me to a position to be able to do this story and tell it the right way,” Bythewood says.




Viola Davis and John Boyega in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

The team assembled an all-star cast of up-and-coming talent, including Lashana Lynch (“Doctor Strange 2,” “No Time to Die”), John Boyega (the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy), and Thuso Mbedu (“The Underground Railroad”), each of whom took on different historical figures that showed the complicated nature of 19th-century Africa, in which prominent West African kingdoms worked with European slavers to sell those they defeated in battle, a practice they later rejected. 

“I really had to learn about this history, and once I did I had a responsibility in portraying this man to not shy away from his conflicts, especially the conflicts that are quite negative,” Boyega says. “I had to be open to the reality of the wrong, for the sake of good portrayal.”




Viola Davis in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

At the center of it all is Davis herself, giving perhaps the best performance of her career. 

“This movie wouldn’t have gotten made without Viola. No one else can be Nanisca, and she’s everything she is off the screen as she is on the screen. She’s so powerful,” says Bythewood.

“She wants collaboration, and we had a great time building this character. She wasn’t familiar with fighting and stunts because she hadn’t done it before, but I have, so I brought my athlete mentality to her and let her know what it really feels like to be in a ring, to hit or be hit, to swing a weapon. Once we had that, we could really build her from there, and once we had Viola’s performance, we had our key ingredient,” Bythewood continues.

For Lynch, this was not just about telling the story of an African kingdom — it was the story of a Black woman-led society, one that has never been explored on screen before, and she and the crew felt a huge responsibility to do it correctly.

“For these women, this is the first time that we’re telling their story. We have to do right by them. These are our ancestors. These women are the reason why we are here on this earth,” says Lynch.


Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’

Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’
Updated 45 min 44 sec ago

Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’

Review: ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’
  • With eight episodes per season, we really got to know Efron and his travel companion, well-being expert Darin Olien
  • Each episode of the second season ends with the message: ‘The team acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands across Australia’

One of the shows that helped me escape my confined space during the 2020 pandemic was Netflix’s “Down to Earth with Zac Efron.”

In the first season actor Zac Efron ventured to France, Puerto Rico, London, Iceland and many other spots.

In each of those places he touched upon the themes of nature, sustainable living and green energy.

He sometimes brought in his famous friends to help with certain adventures. At other times he consulted experts to explain what they were working on to help save the planet.

The first season was a bit all over the place, jumping from topic to topic, much like our attention span during lockdown. This made it the perfect show for those times.

I had only been a casual viewer of Efron’s work up to that point, and knew nothing of his personality, but by the end of season one I had concluded that he seemed like a cool guy to go on a trip with. Many critics agreed, as the season won a daytime Emmy in 2021.

With eight episodes per season, we really got to know Efron and his travel companion, well-being expert Darin Olien.

The second season, also made up of eight episodes, premiered on Netflix in November.

The new season is much more focused, not only because it is centered in one country, or continent, but the two are much more aware of their immense male white privilege, something that seemed a bit lacking in the first — albeit immensely fun — season.

The duo this time around explored the indigenous communities of Australia much more mindfully, and seemed to pass on the mic so that natives could tell us their own story.

Both Efron and Olien were there to learn, enjoy and inspire. And we were like flies on the wall who got to witness it all without leaving our sofas.

Each episode ends with the following message: “The team acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands across Australia.

“We pay respect to the elders past, present and emerging for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country.”

Showing the additional wisdom of the last two years, the two men seemed to really want to get it right this time and not be “the white saviors” in this narrative.

They wanted to be the individuals who let natives take up the space and rightfully guide us all.

Efron and Olien, along with the audience, were merely coming along for the ride. We were all passengers on the journey, with the natives the ones at the wheel.

Narrated by Efron, who would often sneak in playful puns and philosophical observations, season two is a more down-to-earth exploration and one well worth sitting through.

Both seasons can now be streamed on Netflix MENA.


Saudi Arabia’s Ithra hosts football-inspired NFT art show in Qatar

Saudi Arabia’s Ithra hosts football-inspired NFT art show in Qatar
“From Strike to Stroke” is on show at Msheireb Galleria, Doha. (Supplied)
Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Ithra hosts football-inspired NFT art show in Qatar

Saudi Arabia’s Ithra hosts football-inspired NFT art show in Qatar

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) is hosting a football-themed exhibition on the sidelines of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.  

“From Strike to Stroke” is on show at Msheireb Galleria, Doha, and features 64 NFTs by 32 artists from the competing nations. Meanwhile, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will fuse the pieces from the contending two countries in each of the matches into a unique piece based on the results of the game. The result will be a singular collection of 64 one-of-a-kind NFTs created through a collaboration of man and machine.  

The exhibition will run until Dec. 23. 

“The passion shared by football fans for the love of the beautiful game can be tangential to the passion shared by art aesthetes,” said Dr. Shurooq Amin, according to a released statement. “By connecting 32 artists from both the traditional and digital arenas, Ithra not only bridges the gap between Web2 to Web3, and between football and art, but furthermore between human and machine.” 


US director Spike Lee talks ‘Malcolm X’ at Red Sea International Film Festival

US director Spike Lee talks ‘Malcolm X’ at Red Sea International Film Festival
Lauded US director Spike Lee was at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2022

US director Spike Lee talks ‘Malcolm X’ at Red Sea International Film Festival

US director Spike Lee talks ‘Malcolm X’ at Red Sea International Film Festival

JEDDAH: Lauded US director Spike Lee was at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival on Sunday to present a screening of his Oscar-nominated 1992 epic biopic “Malcolm X.”

He also took part in an In Conversation event and touched on a number of topics, including whether her would consider filming in Saudi Arabia.

Spike Lee at the Red Sea International Film Festival. (AFP)

“I can barely speak English. I speak fluent Brooklynese. There are so many things I want to do but to come into a culture you don’t know is dangerous territory. I’ve seen that in many attempts to make films about Black people,” he said.

The director’s trip coincides with the 30th anniversary of his film on American civil rights activist Malcolm X — the first fiction feature to shoot in Makkah, using a Muslim crew to shoot B-roll in the city.  

“It was imperative that we shoot, that we film Malcolm’s Hajj so we were the first film ever allowed to bring a camera in the old city of Mecca. I couldn’t go. We hired a Muslim crew. The highest law court, they didn’t do that for me, they realized how important Malcolm was to Islam,” he said.

“We had a screening yesterday. That is the first time Malcolm X has ever been screened in the country on a movie screen. We’ve come full circle.”


Review: Red Sea title ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ explores a friendship that goes tragically wrong 

Review: Red Sea title ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ explores a friendship that goes tragically wrong 
‘The Banshees of Inisherin' is part of the ongoing second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 05 December 2022

Review: Red Sea title ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ explores a friendship that goes tragically wrong 

Review: Red Sea title ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ explores a friendship that goes tragically wrong 

JEDDAH: A hit at the recent Venice Film Festival, Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” is part of the ongoing second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. McDonagh’s latest adventure got its lead star Colin Farrell an acting award in Venice.  

Much like the director’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which won its lead star Frances McDormand an Oscar in 2018, “Banshees” is a poignant story. 

This time it is about a broken friendship between two men. It is set in 1923 on the fictional island of Inisherin as the sound of Irish civil strife is heard wafting across the sea. This is a harbinger of things to come – of an internecine struggle that is knocking on the door of dairy farmer Padraic (Colin Farrell) and his best friend is Colm (an equally brilliant performance by Brenden Gleeson). While Padraic is a simpleton, who can talk for hours about horse manure, Colm is an artist, writing music and playing the fiddle, and is prone to bouts of melancholy.

 The pair are inseparable, but something triggers a stand-off. Colm begins to avoid Padraic. The musician sits on his chair in deep thought and the film never makes the reason clear — leaving us as confused as the poor Padraic, who nags his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), for information. “Perhaps, he just does not like you no more,” she quips. This may have sounded like a joke, but the truth leads to horrifying incidents.  

Colm is anxious about the passing years and does not want to waste his time with a “limited man.” He is serious about keeping Padraic away, and every time he tries to connect, the tortured artist cuts off one of his fiddle-playing fingers. But in the midst of all this macabre, there are lighter moments that will make the audience laugh.  

Cinematographer Ben Davis and production designer Mark Tildesley create artistic interiors which look like a 17th century Vermeer painting. Meanwhile composer Carter Burwell makes the film feel like a fairy tale. The cast is absolutely flawless and “The Banshees of Inisherin” has an excellent chance of making a mark at the upcoming Oscars. 


Nineteen-year-old Saudi director’s ‘When Red Blooms’ to screen at RSIFF

Nineteen-year-old Saudi director’s ‘When Red Blooms’ to screen at RSIFF
A still from ‘When Red Blooms.’ (Supplied)
Updated 05 December 2022

Nineteen-year-old Saudi director’s ‘When Red Blooms’ to screen at RSIFF

Nineteen-year-old Saudi director’s ‘When Red Blooms’ to screen at RSIFF

RIYADH: It will be “a huge honor” for Tala Al-Harbi when her directorial debut “When Red Blooms” is screened at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 5.

“I believe it can add to my credibility as a director and can help me build up a career in the Saudi film industry,” the 19-year-old director told Arab News.

“When Red Blooms” is a philosophical film that ventures into the mind of a girl who sets unrealistically high expectations for herself with a morbid perfectionism, leading to self-destruction. 

A still from ‘When Red Blooms.’ (Supplied)

“‘When Red Blooms” is a film that may represent different things to different people. To me, the film represents the struggle we all face as humans and how society expects us to be perfect, but we all face our own conflicts — with the world around us and ourselves,” Al-Harbi said. 

Al-Harbi was one of the winners of the second edition of the Red Sea’s 48-hour Filmmaking Challenge, which was held in September. 

“It was truly a surreal feeling as I was surrounded by the team that helped me make the film possible: Madawi Al-Yahya, Natalie Al-Sarraj, Lujain Salaam, Raghdaa Mubarak, Sam Al-Ashari, and our amazing actress Raghad Bokhari,” Al-Harbi told Arab News. 

A still from ‘When Red Blooms.’ (Supplied

The director said that one of her team’s most significant challenges was having to write a story, shoot it and edit it in only 48 hours.

“We had to put our all into the film in the short 48 hours we had.”

“We had many ideas, but with the limited time we had, we needed to work quickly and efficiently to produce something we are proud of,” she said.

As filmmaking students, Al-Harbi and her team always wanted to create something that could show their style and vision “without the limitations of our studies.” The competition was the perfect opportunity for them “to see what we could on our own.” 

Al-Harbi advised aspiring directors to believe in themselves, even if others did not. “If you believe in yourself, you can truly accomplish anything,” she said.