By Rachel Bass

Casting people of color provides jobs to talented actors who would otherwise be overlooked, but mere “inclusion” in the frame is insufficient.

Viola Davis as Nanisca, a Dahomey leader, in The Woman King. Black Women.
Viola Davis as Nanisca, a Dahomey leader, in The Woman King.

Viola Davis plays the Agojie general of an all-female warrior unit—it was refreshing to see another example of Black women portrayed beyond the strong Black women trope. In this role, Davis embodies the fierceness of this leader, while delivering a performance characterized by maternal softness and emotional vulnerability—traits often reserved on screen for white femininity.

Historically, for many white people, Black women were hypersexual, unnaturally asexual, or animalistic to warrant their rape and enslavement. The Black female slave was not marriage material, and her gender role was as a workhorse and machine for reproduction. Conversely, for many, white womanhood was shaped by the “Cult of True Womanhood,” which defined “true” women as pious, pure, submissive and domestic…

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