Movies

How ‘The Woman King’ Editor Brought Vulnerability to a Fierce Warrior

Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire balanced "badass and propulsive and intense fight scenes" with more intimate moments.

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Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu in Sony’s The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES

Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire is the first to acknowledge that the The Woman King can be thought of as an action film. And indeed, with her kinetic cutting, it excels in the action scenes. But she emphasizes that from the start of the project, delving into the characters was the primary approach that she and writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood took to the story, which is set in the 1820s and follows the Agoji, a unit of female warriors in Africa’s Dahomey kingdom. “The focus was always to make sure that by the time we put them in the larger-scope moments, the battle moments, that you cared enough about these characters that you understood what was at stake for them,” she says of the editing. “It was always about finding the humanity in what they were doing, whether it be a fight scene or the most intimate moments.”

Shropshire says one of her favorite scenes in the movie, in fact, didn’t involve a battle. The powerful scene — spoiler alert! — occurs late in the film, after Nanisca, the Agoji general played by Viola Davis, finds a familiar mark on young warrior Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) while helping her to mend a battle wound. Nanisca retreats to her quiet room. “Her second-in-command, Amenza (Sheila Atim), comes in and they begin to talk about something that happened in both their lives that affected both of them, almost 20 years before,” says Shropshire of the reveal that Nanisca had a child. “She had Amenza take the child away. Now, Nanisca is asking, ‘What did you do?’ ”

The editor — whose two-decade collaboration with Prince-Bythewood ranges from 2000’s Love & Basketball to 2020’s The Old Guard — describes the pacing as she praises the performances of the actors. “That was always a scene where I knew, and Gina knew, we were going to need to take a moment. It’s not necessarily always embraced to take a moment in this type of film when it’s considered propulsive and it has a certain degree of momentum to it.

“There was also a sense that some [audience members] would be ahead of us and some people would be just kind of catching up to us,” Shropshire adds. “But what was really important in that scene was to allow the audience to know that these two characters needed a moment to kind of unravel everything.”

Throughout the film, Shropshire delicately introduced the layers of Nanisca. “We wanted her to be someone who is very guarded,” she says. “She’s the general. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion, yet [the film also provides] those moments when she shows her vulnerability. There are moments where there’s a choice to hold [a shot] on Nanisca and show a little bit longer of a look on her, allowing for the audience to begin to see her in more vulnerable moments, moments that she doesn’t share with other people around her.”

She adds, “We wanted the audience to be able to have those private moments with her so that when we finally did reveal the big part of her history, you cared about this person because we gave you a little bit of a window into her beyond ‘the general.’ “

In these more intimate scenes, Shropshire adds that she had to achieve a “very delicate balance, so that it doesn’t become melodramatic, or that you rush through the film. There’s plenty of time in this film to have those moments of propulsion and action and intensity. But this is a different kind of intensity. It’s the emotional intensity.”

Of course, building that connection also gave more intensity to the battle scenes between the Agoji and the antagonistic warriors of the Oyo Empire. “We wanted these amazingly badass and propulsive and intense fight scenes, but we also wanted you to be able to take this journey with these characters that we hope we’ve had you imprint on and care about.”

Credit: The Nollywood Reporter, December 9, 2022 bCAROLYN GIARDINA

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