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The Hub Entertainment Watch List: African Queens: Njinga
With Women’s History Month in full effect, why not highlight some of the hidden rulers throughout history? One series looking to shed light on those often-untold stories is “African Queens: Njinga“, which debuted on Netflix and was executively produced as well as narrated by actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith stepped behind the camera to produce this four-part docu-series which focuses on Queen Njinga of Angola.
African Queens follows the life of 17th-century warrior Queen Njinga, also spelled Nzinga, who ruled over Ndongo and Matamba which were located in what’s known today as Angola. She was a dominant ruler and negotiator who halted the Portuguese from enslaving the people of her Kingdom. Njinga was the nation’s first female ruler, who frequently demonstrated her political, diplomatic and military prowess.
Pinkett Smith noted in a press release that “this particular project went through many different machinations, but it started with Willow… I really wanted to represent Black women,” when speaking on her reasoning for developing the production. She teamed up with Peres Owino and NneNne Iwuji to create the series, which fuses expert interviews and reenactments to tell the queen’s story. Viewers are able to hear from contributors including Queen Diambi Kabatusuila, who is a historian and traditional queen of the Bakwa Luntu people (province in the Democratic Republic of Congo). Rosa Cruz e Silva, who has served as the Minister of Culture and the former director of the National Archives of Angola, was also a featured voice in the series.
Episode one, “Death of a King,” sets the stage with the King of Ndongo becoming the target of growing opposition forces and introduces the audience to Njinga (played by Adesuwa Oni)who is in search of a new ally. The second episode, “Power is Not Given,” shows Njinga’s rise to the throne as power transitions from her brother, Mbande, to her. After Njinga ascends to power episode three, “The Blood Oath,” shows the new Queen solidifying her authority and fighting to maintain her position. The dramatized docu-series concludes with episode four, “Legacy.” The final episode explores the Queen’s reluctance to negotiate with a European power in order to protect her people and establish an independent kingdom that would recognize her as queen.
When speaking on striking a balance between presenting the facts of the stories told with adding creative expression, Pinkett-Smith says she opted to limit her stretching of ideas. The actress-producer stated, “the difficulty with narrative is that sometimes you want to take creative license and stretch ideas a bit, where I really wanted to be able to stick to the historical facts of each woman.” She noted the importance of sticking to the facts since the stories being depicted were not widely known. Now, interested viewers can learn more about the warrior queen by streaming the series on Netflix.