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Why The Woman King Warriors And Black Panther’s Dora Milaje Are Completely Different, Despite Its Stunt Team Overlap

This past weekend’s big box office winner The Woman King is a rare spectacle in the Hollywood landscape because a group of Black women as fierce action warriors is not a common story Hollywood has told. However, thank goodness it does exist, because Gina Prince-Bythewood’s epic is a marvel to behold. The only movie we can think that comes close is 2018’s Black Panther, where Wakanda’s Dora Milaje were introduced. Both films even include a stunt team overlap, but The Woman King’s fight choreographer shared how the projects differ. 

Jénel Stevens was a Dora Milaje stunt performer on Black Panther prior to stepping up for The Woman King as the movie’s fight choreographer and Viola Davis’ stunt double. When CinemaBlend spoke to Stevens about her empowering experience on the film, she shared why Black Panther didn’t actually have much to do with her The Woman King experience at all. In her words: 

This was completely separate and different from [Black Panther], which is why I was very proud to be a part of this project because it was based on historical fact and history and just badass women from the 1800s. And before that, it truly existed. So, you know, my fighting style has nothing to do with Panther and I brought what I learned throughout my life and Danny [Hernandez] as well, and Johnny Gao to this movie that was its own thing.

While on the outside it may seem like a project like Black Panther might have helped prepare the stuntwoman for The Woman King, as she shared, this was a completely different project with new challenges and fighting techniques. Stevens continued: 

A lot of us came in with different backgrounds in the core stunt team. They trained the South African performers in South Africa before we even got there. Danny Hernandez, the stunt coordinator, has his own fighting style as well, which is similar to mine because we're in the same martial arts lineage. Johnny Gao, the fight coordinator, came in with a specific skill as well, he does a lot of Wushu. Danny and I do a lot of Kali… The South African coordinators did a lot of Jiu Jitsu and Judo and so there were a lot of different styles that we blended together and we basically figured out what they could do, the actors and kind of developed something that showed their strengths.

Danny Hernandez was the fight coordinator on the recent Avengers films, along with being part of Black Panther, and Johnny Gao was part of those teams tpp. When The Woman King was in production, the Marvel stunt team reunited, but implemented a mix of each of their fighting styles for the historical epic to make it something different and special. 

One thing major to know about the Viola Davis-led movie is it is based on a real warrior unit called the Agojie, or Dahomey Amazons, who existed from the 1600s to 1904 to protect a West African kingdom. While the stunt team couldn’t necessarily copy the fighting techniques the real warriors used in history, they combined their own knowledge of fighting styles to create what you see on the big screen. 

During our interview with Jénel Stevens, Davis’ stunt double shared that the 57-year-old actress did just about everything in the film. Stevens said she believes she did maybe a take or lap, but it was all Davis otherwise. You can check out more interviews for The Woman King here on CinemaBlend and check out our video review following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.