Many will be heading out to theaters this weekend to see TriStar Pictures’ new action film, The Woman King, a special period piece on the all-female Agojie warriors that protected a West African kingdom from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Famed actress Viola Davis stars as General Nanisca, with an outstanding supporting cast that includes Thuso Mbedu (Amazon Prime’s The Underground Railroad), the new 007 Lashana Lynch, Halle Berry’s Bruised costar Sheila Atim, and Star Wars reboot star John Boyega.
The film ushers in a new era of Black women being portrayed as action heroes, breaking away from the never-ending trope of only being the smarts of the operation or a simple damsel in distress. It’s a form of empowerment that’s needed on a large scale when it comes to representation, especially with everything going on in politics relating to policing the bodies of women. Seeing a film get made that takes us back to the Dahomey dynasty of the 1800s, set to action choreography done exquisitely by a cast of Black women — we can’t even begin to describe the feeling people will get by watching that image on the big screen!
Of course, the lane of Black female action leads isn’t entirely new. Few and far in-between for our liking, yes, but new, not so much. Pam Grier proved to be a pioneer in her handful of performances during the blaxploitation era of the ’70s, but many lovely ladies after her have carried on the torch with a tight-clenched fist and sometimes even a roundhouse kick to match.
As a salute to all the Black women who kept us on the edge of our seats in movie theaters over the years, take a look at our favorite Black female action heroes from classic movies:
1. Pam Grier, ‘Foxy Brown’
The one who started it all! When discussing melanated movie stars in action films, Grier will always be the one that set the bar for what it means to have brains, braun and Black beauty.
2. Lashana Lynch, ‘No Time To Die’
The future of a Black Bond is constantly being discussed, but Lashana Lynch made a fine argument for just letting her take over the wheel. We think she’d look good in a tux.
3. Zazie Beetz, ‘Deadpool 2’
Portraying a comic hero comes with tons of expectations from fans that already have their own picture of how that character sounds and would look like in real life. Zazie brought action, charisma and a slew of dark humor to the role of Domino, who wasn’t even Black in the comics, and in the process got many hoping she makes the MCU transition for Deadpool 3.
4. Taraji P. Henson, ‘Proud Mary’
The scene above is a testament to all the hard work Taraji put into this role. From gun handing and car maneuvering to all the sliding around she was doing, we give her props for putting on a surprisingly athletic performance.
5. Danai Gurira, ‘Black Panther’
Her days on The Walking Dead translated effortlessly on the big screen as Marvel’s expertly skilled and lethal Okoye. Danai Gurira is the true embodiment of a Black hero in this role, and we can’t wait to see more in Wakanda Forever.
6. Jada Pinkett Smith, ‘The Matrix: Revolutions’
Jada’s dedication to the role of Niobe was on all levels a vision to watch. Her now-iconic leather fit and Bantu knots combo brought a sleekness to ass-kicking that truly put her performance in a class of its own.
7. Halle Berry, ‘X-Men’
The role of Storm was never one to be taken lightly, especially as many thought Angela Bassett was a shoe-in when casting was first announced. However, Halle proved that she not only could rise to the occasion but also dedicate to portraying the mutant queen of elements for over a decade. Salute!