She’s Royal #5

Preamble: From the Dahomey royal from last week’s post, we now move to a Zulu royal.  I grew up hearing about King Shaka (Zulu) but never knew anything about his mother, or his kingdom really; he was more myth than man. But, he is a man with a mother. And she’s the latest feature in this #wcw #womancrushWednesday She’s royal series that I’m doing as my note to Hollywood.  Preamble-post-note: I am aware that some of the women featured do less than noble things, and some are quite violent, but they’re not presented here because they’re angels (though some are, in fact, quite heroic and each is fierce in her own way) but because they’re lesser known (at least in the west) royals with interesting life stories; and Hollywood, after its fixation on certain popular European royals, some of whom also have blood on their hands, some of whom are also not angels, might want to give them a looksee. Just to mix things up a bit.

She’s Royal #5:

nandi_de_zululand

Nandi (Queen Mother of Shaka, King of the Zulus)

Her story: Of the 1828 assassination of Zulu king, Shaka, history.com writes “In 1827, Shaka’s mother, Nandi, died, and the Zulu leader lost his mind. In his grief, Shaka had hundreds of Zulus killed, and he outlawed the planting of crops and the use of milk for a year. All women found pregnant were murdered along with their husbands. He sent his army on an extensive military operation, and when they returned exhausted he immediately ordered them out again. It was the last straw for the lesser Zulu chiefs: On September 22, 1828, his half-brothers murdered Shaka. Dingane, one of the brothers, then became king of the Zulus.”

Nandi’s life which began in 1760 was quite interesting, and any chapter would make for a dramatic self-contained tale but the full span of it is epic. Long story short, Nandi, got knocked up by a Zulu chieftain during uku-hlobonga “a form of coitus interruptus allowed to unmarried couples”. There were all sorts of pregnancy and paternity denials, but eventually Nandi and her son Shaka found a place in his father’s household, for a time. The marriage was reportedly problematic for a few reasons, including being interclan, and Nandi eventually re-settled elsewhere with Shaka and his sister – bad treatment and bullying arguably forging a special bond between them. When Shaka became king, Nandi had some influence – “it is said that Nandi was a force for moderation in Shaka’s life, suggesting various political compromises to him rather than violent action.” (Source) The stories surrounding her death are confusing and contradictory – one story being that Shaka himself killed her after she permitted a member of his harem to leave with his son (because he might kill her for getting pregnant and bearing an heir who could then take his throne?). In any case, after her death, Nandi had the burial rituals befitting a Nguni chief and there was murder and mayhem amidst a year long period of enforced mourning. Soaps can’t manufacture this kind of drama.

Possible casting: Danai Gurira.
Next up: A queen who reportedly has her roots right here in Antigua.

She’s Royal #4

Preamble: After last week’s Queen Makeda, the royal women series #wcw continues… and I have had to re-interrogate some of the information I’d previously gathered for this entry and others. But hopefully if not the full story, this and the posts to continue will provide, as accurately as possible, enough information to give a sense of the women and perhaps spur more inquiry and, where necessary, correction.

She’s Royal #4:

dahomey-girl

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh (“God Speaks true”)

Her story: Much like Black Panther’s Dora Milaje (who were reportedly based on them), the Dahomey amazons (as they were called by the Europeans, a nod to the amazons of Greek mythology) or N’Nonmiton, or minos, (“mothers” in the language of the Fon people of Dahomey) was an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (then one of West Africa’s most powerful states; present day Benin). They were led, in the 19th century, by Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh.

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh’s inclusion in this royals series is on technicality, as in the women warriors of Dahomey were technically wives of the king though he didn’t have sexual relations with them, rendering them effectively celibate for life. This – and the young age of recruitment – is an aspect of the Dora Milaje found in the Black Panther comics but scrapped from the film. There are conflicting tales of the actual beginnings of the Dahomey amazons/minos beginning, some dating back to the 17th century, but essentially they seem to have been fearless female hunters-cum-palace guards-cum-battle hardened warriors.  But by the time of Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh’s leadership, they numbered in the thousands and defeat was rare (though it did happen).

Their fearsomeness – and in particular Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh’s – though is the bigger part of their legend. The stories of their training, initiation, and military activities are bloody. When in 1889 the French took control of part of the Dahomey kingdom, Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh is said by some sources to have been a key figure in instigating war during an attack on a village under French rule, when she beheaded the chief of the village with a cutlass, and presented his head, wrapped in the French flag, to her king. She was, also, according to some sources, part of the army to face France in the war that followed (the first Franco-Dahomean war, 1890). She and her amazons/n’nonmiton’s burned fields and villages rather than let them be taken by the French, and were among the last to surrender when the kingdom was defeated (in 1894); and even then, they fought, secreting themselves in the enemy camp and taking the place of women of Dahomey who had been taken custody, seducing members of the French army, and cutting the army men’s throat with their own bayonet while they slept. (Smithsonian)

Details on Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh specifically are sketchy (and the record of the Dahomey amazons themselves is not exactly fleshed out as the French did everything they could to disband the troops, their structure, and their memory, so that much of what remains is fractured oral history). She is believed to have been born in 1835 and had begun her training at age 10. By 15, she had risen to leadership and led her first raid, 6,000 warriors at her back, against the Egba fortress of Abeokuta in 1851. She reportedly returned with the spoils of war, including the head of the leader of the rival army to present to her king. This seems to have been her go-to move as the only specific mention of Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh was in the journals of British navy commander, reported abolitionist, and member of the Royal Geographical Society, Frederick E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans; being the journals of two missions to the king of Dahomey and the residence at his capital in the year 1849 and 1850. The book includes a sketch of her holding a severed head.

Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh is on record as a highly effective (i.e. lethal) and highly esteemed (i.e. treated like royalty) leader. But there are conflicting tales of her end – either she died well before or during the Franco-Dahomean war or lived long enough to train another generation of female warriors and then retire.`

Possible casting: After the athleticism displayed in Steve McQueen’s Widows, I’m thinking Broadway alum Cynthia Erivo.
Next up: still Africa…this time among the Zulus.

She’s Royal #2

Preamble to the preamble: Yep, when I started this series last week, I promised to make it my #womancrushwednesday #wcw and not one full week later I almost missed a Wednesday. In my defense… Christmas.

Actual preamble: This series began last week with this post on Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande, Dona Anna de Souza). It offers some suggestions for Hollywood if they ever get around to spotlighting any other female Royals than…you know the ones.

She’s Royal #2:

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Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan (“the Indian princess”, “the spy princess”, Nora Baker, Madeleine)

Her Story: She didn’t occupy any throne but she is descended from Indian royalty (her great-great-great-grandfather was Tipu Sultan, 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore). Born in Russia in 1914 to an Indian father (a musician and Sufi teacher) and American mother, she was raised in London and France, and studied both medicine and music, and was also a published writer of children’s stories. In fact – a bit of trivia (from rejectedprincess.com) – the code name she used during her time as an operative, Madeleine, was from one of her stories and her radio encryption code was from one of her poems. She escaped to England shortly before the French surrender to Germany in 1940 and there joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator. Recruited to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942, she was the first female wireless operator sent in to Nazi-occupied France despite concerns about her suitability for fieldwork – a particular brand of field work with a life span of six weeks; she lasted four months. She stayed, even after infiltration was suspected, continuing to send intercepted radio messages back to England, single-handedly heading a cell of spies, frequently changing her appearance and alias, before being eventually exposed. In captivity, she was starved and beaten, and yet refused to give up any information. Two failed escape attempts had her branded “highly dangerous” and kept in shackles and in solitary confinement until her eventual execution (via gunshot after relentless beatings by the gestapo at Dachau concentration camp) in 1944. Per the BBC, her final word was “liberte”. She was 30 years old. She has posthumously been honoured with Britain’s George Cross and a statue in her honour in Gordon Square Gardens in London, and France’s Croix de Guerre, among other tributes. She’s been chronicled in books, documentaries, and docu-dramas, but I can’t find a feature film centering her; about time, I’d say.

Possible casting: I’ve cycled through Archie Panjabi (wrong age but great acting chops), and Frieda Pinto (right age range, a known Hollywood big screen entity) but I’m currently leaning toward Tina Desai whom I’ll admit I barely noticed among the star-studded line-up of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but I think her charming screen presence and the things demanded of her for her performance in the Wachowskis’ Netflix series Sense8 will translate well to a WWll espionage thriller with an Indian princess at its centre.
Next up: The African Queen who turned the head of the world’s wisest man.

She’s Royal #1

Preamble to the preamble: More than a year ago (yes, that long – per my records, I’ve had pictures on file for this series since 2017 October which means the researching and writing goes back further), I had an idea for a series on women whose stories it would be cool to see Hollywood tackle. I started researching royals (much as with my fairytale With Grace, which may have been one of the things that teased my interest in doing this, I decided to circumvent the trope; looking at women who were not only royals but turned the idea of being a royal woman or ‘just’ a woman on its head). I found royals in a variety of mostly underrepresented cultures (including a number of Caribbean royal women as well) added to this series incrementally thinking I might blog it or sell it. Well, it’s a year or more later and I’m kind of just keen to start putting it out there; so I guess I’m blogging it. There are about 10 (give or take) so it being almost Wednesday 19th December 2018, I’m going to run it week by week as a sort of nod to the #womancrushWednesday #wcw meme. So be sure to come back for others in the series. And share, share, share; maybe Hollywood will hear us…and maybe need a screenwriter to adapt the story, a screenwriter who’s maybe already done some of the research. Just saying.

Actual preamble: We’ve seen Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth both first and second again and again. Don’t get me wrong; those are worthy and interesting historical subjects but would it be too much to ask Hollywood to mix it up a little more. To, to use a buzzword that should be more than a buzzword in this era of #Oscarssowhite while TV and the Emmys get more inclusive, diversify. This post is a list of 10 (or so) other royal women, awesomely interesting royal women, whom I think would make pretty cool film subjects, but who have never or rarely gotten the Hollywood treatment. And after you’ve gone down the list, I hope you too will be wondering, why hasn’t this happened yet?

She’s Royal #1:

Photo of Queen Nzinga of Angola

Queen Nzinga (Nzinga Mbande, Dona Anna de Souza)

Her Story: She ruled the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundu people in what is modern day Angola, back in the 17th-century. As European powers maneuvered in their bid to carve up Africa among themselves, the Portuguese set its sights on Mbundu land and invited the King to negotiate. He sent his sister. Reportedly, at that first meeting, when no seat was made available for her, in a power move she had one of her assistants fill in (as in substitute as her seat). This diva move notwithstanding, she did initially agree to accommodations – including the huge one of her converting to Christianity and urging her brother to order the conversion of his people as well. She herself became queen in 1626 when her brother committed suicide –in response to increasing Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions. Her response to the pressure was to form alliances with rival states (and with Portuguese rivals like the Dutch) and resist (!), ultimately defeating the Portuguese in 1647 and continuing her resistance even after the Dutch withdrew from Central Africa the following year, leading attacks, including guerilla attacks, well into her 60s. She died of natural causes in 1663, in her 80s, despite numerous attempts to capture or kill her. There is a 2013 Portuguese language TV series about Queen Nzinga, starring Lesliana Perreira, but I’d still like to see her get the big screen Hollywood treatment.

Possible casting: An African queen to play an African queen, Lupita N’yongo.
Next up: An Indian Princess who served as a spy during World War 2.