professors cite themes in The Woman King; Blockbuster film details lessons for emerging Social Work professionals

Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

By Valerie Fields Hill
School of Social Work

 Woman King Viola in action


The epic Hollywood film The Woman King, which stars actress Viola Davis in a portrayal of the real-life leader of an all-female African warrior unit, includes themes that social workers encounter in their clinical and community practices, a UTA professor says.


“It is not just an excellent movie, but there are several themes related to Social Work,” says Dr. Jandel Crutchfield, an assistant professor who teaches about concepts of diverse populations, cultural engagement, and racial justice in Social Work practice.


“The meaning of the film with an all-Black woman led cast speaks to issues of racial justice in Hollywood.


“Additionally, the lead character along with others has to do some internal work related to her own healing,” Dr. Crutchfield says of Davis’ character, Nanisca. “She has to come to a place of forgiving herself and building a future she desires.”


The movie’s varied themes, the representation of darker skinned Black women in the film industry, – and these connections to Social Work – are the reasons the School’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is sponsoring a screening and panel discussion this week of The Woman King.


The screening begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, at Look Dine-In Cinemas, 5727 W. Interstate 20, in Arlington. It is open to university students, faculty and staff, but reservations are required. There is currently a waitlist due to the high interest in the event.

Thursday’s film screening will be followed by a panel discussion. The panel includes UTA’s new provost Dr. Tamara Brown, who has a background in psychology.

School of Social Work associate professor Kiva Harper, who counsels victims of trauma and sexual assault in her clinical practice, and Dr. Bethany Wood, who researches mental health and social determinants of mental health, will join the panel.

The panel also will include Dr. Ericka Roland, an assistant professor in the UTA College of Education who studies development around equity and social justice, and Lynda Carmouche a clinician, advocate and author.

Dr. Crutchfield, who has seen the movie multiple times, says she was surprised to have observed so many connections between the film and the Social Work profession, especially in themes such as advocacy and empowerment through a shared purpose.

The film is set in 1823 in the West African region of Dahomey, now present-day Benin, a French-speaking nation on the Atlantic coast between Ghana and Nigeria. According to historical accounts, Dahomey was a major regional power that controlled tribal commerce and heavily participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The Woman King follows Nanisca as the general of the all-women unit and her recruitment, protection, and training of the fierce and famed warriors. The unit uses extreme discipline, wit and sheer strength to defend the Dahomey tribe against nearby tribal influences, European colonization, and economic dependence on slave trading.

The movie’s mostly African and African American actors are of darker skin complexions – a rarity in recent Hollywood movies, a historical practice that is commonly critiqued of the film industry.

“The movie highlights all darker skinned-lead actresses. This is rare because of colorism in film and media,” says Dr. Crutchfield, who researches the phenomenon of colorism and its impact on academic performance and other areas of education and society.

In the movie, some of the women warriors are recruited after suffering domestic abuse or other social ills. When they become warriors, they have personal choice regarding whether they want to join the military unit and are celebrated as women within the palace walls and the larger community.

While adhering to strict rules of the unit they also are seen enjoying the strong bonds of sisterhood, acceptance, celebration and even fun.

Read more on these UTA panelists:

Dr. Jandel Crutchfield

Kiva Harper

Dr. Bethany Wood

Dr. Ericka Roland

Dr. Tamara Brown