Viola Davis and John Boyega on How 'The Woman King' Puts Women at the Forefront (Exclusive)

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According to Viola DavisThe Woman King is more than a film about warriors -- it's a movie about possibilities. The 56-year-old star and producer of the upcoming historical epic admits that she was initially apprehensive about the physical reality of starring as Agojie general Nanisca but shares that once she began the work, it opened her eyes.

"When I started the martial arts [training], I was like, 'I'm 56, I'm a woman, I can't take down this dude, I can't do this, I can't do that. And then suddenly I could," Davis tells ET's Thando Dlomo on the set of the film. "I saw my possibility. I see that every day when I come to work. I see the possibilities in women."

Davis' experience speaks to the significance of the film's premise -- a historical saga following the Agojie, an all-female army in the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th and 19th centuries. The intense action is akin to movies like Braveheart or Gladiator, which typically aren't led by a cast of mostly women. Especially Black women.

Co-written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King is a marked shift in how media usually depicts Black women. The film brings the story of Nanisca and her army of formidable warriors who protected the Kingdom of Dahomey to the big screen, showing them as the pivotal defense against colonists who threaten to destroy their way of life. 

"The Woman King will tell one of history's greatest forgotten stories from the real world in which we live, where an army of African warrior women staved off slavery, colonialism and inter-tribal warfare to unify a nation," producer Cathy Schulman said of the project when it was first revealed. Both she and Maria Bello, who is also a producer on the film, first pitched the idea in 2015 before the film was officially announced in 2018. 

And the film doesn't shy away from the violence expected from its genre -- when the official first look dropped in July, the brutality of the Agojie was seen in full force as the trailer showed the army slaughtering their enemies. 

Those scenes aren't just for show. The stars trained twice a day, six days a week to get into Agojie fighting form.

Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim star as Dahomey Amazons under Davis' command, with John Boyega starring as Dahomey's King Ghezo.

"I always wanted to work with Viola," Mbedu tells ET. "And then going into training with her and meeting this very funny and quirky human being who does random dances [and is] also like, 'I'm too old for this,' it's absolutely absolutely amazing."

Boyega noted how novel the experience has been for him, having to "sit back" and watch as his castmates "go into a realm that normally men are forced to go."

"Even as an actor, you know, it's normally the man that's the hero, the man that's saving the day," the Star Wars alum points out. "In this, we're seeing women at the forefront."

The Woman King is slated to debut in theaters on Sept. 16. 

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