Gina Prince-Bythewood breached a professional norm when she first met Viola Davis to discuss The Woman King in the spring of 2020 at Davis’ production company’s headquarters.
Prince-Bythewood isn’t likely to come across as weak to anyone. The filmmaker is tall and slim, and he exudes calm confidence. He was a former basketball and track star, and his oeuvre spans from the 2000 romance drama Love & Basketball to the 2020 Netflix superhero feature The Old Guard. She was prepared for a disagreement with Sony over a choice regarding The Woman King, which she is rushing to complete in time for its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9 and its release in theatres on September 16. She chose the “I’m Gonna Win” T-shirt specifically for the meeting she was having there later that day.
Prince-Bythewood is adopted, and at that moment in the meeting with Davis, her customary air of assurance vanished. The Woman King is a historical epic about the Agojie, an all-female army in the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th and 19th centuries. The script was written by Dana Stevens and is based on a narrative by Maria Bello and Stevens. It also features a plot involving an adopted daughter. That sob-inducing discovery, which the director believed may deny her the opportunity to helm a distinctive studio picture focused on Black female strength, actually sealed the deal.
The Woman King is the result of the numerous conflicts Davis, 57, and Prince-Bythewood, 53, have had during their careers over spending plans and haircuts. Davis has never had the chance to portray a physically demanding, heroic character like this, despite being the only African American actor to win the triple crown of acting—an Oscar, an Emmy, and not one but two Tony Awards. A $50 million action-adventure epic called The Woman King stars Davis as Mel Gibson in a role that strangely feels both inevitable and unattainable for her and Prince-Bythewood to play.
At Sony’s TriStar label in the summer of 2017, Hannah Minghella, the studio’s then-head, and Nicole Brown, Minghella’s then-senior VP, met with Davis and her colleague’s producers. Brown became the company’s top executive within two years after Minghella left for a position at Bad Robot, making history as the first Black woman to head the live-action label at a major studio. When Brown took over as company president, she immediately made The Woman King a primary priority for TriStar. That initial encounter was held before the movie had a storyline or a director.
After directing The Old Guard, an action picture with Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne that had a larger budget ($70 million) and audience than any of her previous works, Prince-Bythewood joined the project in 2020. The Old Guard was sixth among Netflix’s 10 most popular movies up to that time, ahead of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and the Ben Affleck action picture Triple Frontier, with 72 million homes streaming it during its first four weeks on the service.