Marvel's "Black Panther" made waves a few years ago with a mainly black cast, and was not only a box office success but also won three Oscars. It is considered a cinematic milestone in terms of representing actors of color, and now, "The Woman King" is a sign of how Hollywood is progressing.
It's an action epic by black director Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Old Guard") and stars black actresses including Oscar winner Viola Davis ("Fences").
It focuses on the Agojie, the women's army of the Kingdom of Dahomey, which is now Benin. The Agojie, also known as the Dahomey Amazons, were considered particularly fearsome in the 19th century.
They battled against the West African slave trade, exploitative Europeans and the African Oyo who sided with the colonialists and helped enslave people.
That's how "The Woman King" tells the story. The Agojie really did exist, but concerning slavery, their role may have been slightly more complicated.
Viola Davis plays Naninca, the Agojie leader who kills a group of male fighters to set prisoners free in the film's very first scene.
However, Naninca is also burdened by trauma from her past. She has at her side the intelligent Amenza (Sheila Atim) and tough Izogie (Lashana Lynch from James Bond film "No Time to Die").
King Ghezo ("Star Wars" star John Boyega) values Naninca's opinion and her elite force, but he is nevertheless a true macho. Politically, meanwhile, Naninca has to stand up to Ghezo's wives.
As a young recruit to the Agojie, the impetuous but highly talented Nawi (newcomer Thuso Mbedu) upsets the order among the Agojie more than once – annoying Naninca in the process.
The warrior women are forbidden to have a husband or even children, but Nawi flirts with the young European Malik (Jordan Bolger), whose mother had been brought to Europe as a slave from Dahomey.
Malik, who came to Africa with a group of slave traders, soon winds up asking himself whose side he is on.
Being directed by a black woman, namely Gina Prince-Bythewood, made a big difference to the actors.
"You feel seen in a world that sometimes doesn't see you at all as a black woman and as a dark skinned black woman. People just don't see you, and they don't see your value," Viola Davis told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) in London. "It makes you feel worthy and it makes you feel real."
For Thuso Mbedu, "The Woman King" was her first time working with a black female director. It was "completely refreshing," she says.
The actors had to undergo a monthlong intensive fitness and bodybuilding program before shooting began in order to manage the physical aspect of their demanding roles. All of the actors had to do their own stunts and fight scenes, and there are lots of them.
Even Lashana Lynch who has plenty of experience with action films called the physical demands the "biggest challenge" of her career so far.
"The Woman King" deals with slave trade, racism, sexism and rape, but despite these serious issues, Prince-Bythewood has made a surprisingly entertaining film.
Sure, it may have a few cliches, be largely fictional and only very loosely based on facts, but that can be forgiven as "The Woman King" entertains the senses and doesn't strive to be a history lesson with any claim to authenticity.
You realize this when you see the stylish costumes and the modern-looking decor on the screen, which may not be how things looked in the year 1823.
Prince-Bythewood focuses on the army of black women, their grace and their strength, something that no Hollywood blockbuster has ever done before.
Historically inspired action epics and fantasy films from "Ben-Hur" to "Conan the Barbarian" to "Gladiator" mostly told the stories of white men.
"The Woman King" is impressive proof that more is possible, taking us forward in terms of black representation on the big screen.