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The Woman King Fight Choreographer Shares Empowering Moments On Set And Why The Movie Is Important For The Stunt Industry

The Woman King is more than an action-packed historical drama, it’s a rare release featuring Black female warriors in a big-screen flick based on true events. It’s safe to say that being on the set of the Viola Davis-led film was not the average on-set experience for its cast and crew. As Jénel Stevens -- the movie’s fight choreographer and stunt double to Davis -- shared with CinemaBlend, shooting the film was full of emotion and empowerment. 

Jénel Stevens has done stunts on numerous big-budget movies and TV shows, including Black Panther. When she spoke with CinemaBlend about the energy on the set of The Woman King, her comments made it clear that she had an unforgettable experience on the set of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s film. Stevens said this: 

It was bone chilling and gave me chills, honestly, especially the scene when they all rise out of the grass, that I think was an epic thing to witness. We all got chills on set… I believe a couple people even cried when they saw that being filmed, and just the empowerment we all felt on set. In fact, there were times between takes when the males and the females in the scene, I won't go into specifics, but after they yelled cut, there was chanting back and forth and it just was, there was an energy that was palpable and everybody were just watching. And, there were times when Gina would take out her camera and just film what was happening between takes because everybody was just so excited. It was like a celebration. Honestly, there was a rain delay sometimes, and the people on set would just start dancing and singing. And it was amazing. It was fantastic to be a part of.

The Woman King follows Viola Davis’ General Naniska, who is the leader of the Agojie all-female warrior unit, which really protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey from the 1600s to 1904. The movie, also starring Lashana Lynch and John Boyega among its stacked cast, allows a story about powerful Black women to take center stage and, on set, the cast and crew could really feel the importance and joy of having that moment on film. 

The 2022 movie release, which is now playing in theaters, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews. CinemaBlend also shared a glowing review of The Woman King from TIFF. As Jénel Stevens pointed out, the release of a movie like this is not only important for the representation of the history of Black women but also for the stunt industry. In her words: 

I feel like we could just continue to tell stories as a stunt performer. We also do previs and we put that out there for the public on social media platforms and through other outlets, but just people doing the research on the industry side, stunt perspective, doing the research and just sharing the knowledge. If we know that these stories exist, we can unearth them, we can put them on screen, we can talk about it. And then eventually, and hopefully they become movies and shows that we can educate the world that these people existed.

Jénel Stevens also told us that Viola Davis did just about everything you see her do in the flick, but with this movie, a ton of work had to be done for the stunts and choreography of the training and battles. As Stevens shared, there’s a lot of legwork that stunt teams and choreographers do to help make these films possible but, when it comes to this historical drama, she really appreciated the additional research by the industry to make this storytelling possible. 

While there’s not nearly enough diversity with movie roles in general, we’ve also yet to see such a large group of female warriors not only be showcased but given the opportunity and care that The Woman King gives the Agojie women. You can check it out in theaters now and take a look at CinemaBlend’s interview with director Gina Prince-Bythewood to learn more behind-the-scenes details from the film. 

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.