written by Matt Grobar, Deadline
When filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood met with editors for her 2000 debut feature Love & Basketball, she was looking for someone she’d “want to go to war with” — someone who saw and appreciated her vision and would be “in the fight” with her to protect it.
This and so much more, she found in Terilyn A. Shropshire, the Emmy nominee and ACE Eddie Award winner who has now cut five of her features, between her breakout romantic drama and her 2022 Sony historical epic, The Woman King.
Prince-Bythewood notes in conversation with Shropshire on The Process that their most recent film, starring Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu, was “the biggest” and most difficult of both of their careers, given the scope of its action sequences alone, which far transcended what they’d encountered in their entrée into that arena with Netflix’s The Old Guard.
Shropshire says that when she first read the Woman King script penned by Dana Stevens, from a story written by Stevens and Maria Bello, she found it to be “overwhelming” in the best possible sense. “It’s like having a new gauntlet thrown down. Like, ‘Oh, you think you’re good? Bam. Here, cut this!’ So, it was one of those exciting things,” she tells Prince-Bythewood. “When you decide to take something on…I’ve discovered this over the years, that it’s not going to be some small thing…It’s going to say something, it’s going to mean something, it’s going to have a resonance, because that’s what you choose to do. But this was just a whole other level.”
Hitting U.S. theaters in September after world premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, The Woman King tells the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. The film inspired by true events follows the journey of General Nanisca (Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life, also examining her ever-evolving, and ultimately life-changing relationship with the young warrior Nawi (Mbedu).
Certainly, The Woman King‘s action sequences absorbed a great deal of Shropshire’s time, given that certain scenes featuring “thousands of people” in battle were presented to the editor in the form of weeks’ worth of footage. But as with past films, Prince-Bythewood and Shropshire looked to pay just as much attention to “intimate, private moments with these incredible relationships” as they did to “big set pieces,” making sure that both would come across as “equally seismic” to the viewer.
A main point of focus then, as Shropshire went about her work, was balance. “I could already tell in the script this was going to take some balance and some work and some modulating, because it wasn’t a straight-on action movie, and it wasn’t just a drama,” she recalls. “It felt very historical and balanced and was a full-bodied script, so you knew that we’d only have a certain space of time to tell that, and that we’d have to figure out how to make that work.”
Also starring Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, John Boyega and more, The Woman King was produced by Cathy Schulman, Davis, Julius Tennon and Bello, and exec produced by Peter McAleese.
In conversation with Prince-Bythewood on The Process, Shropshire discusses her first-ever meeting with the filmmaker and her perception early on that she was “hard to read,” making the transition from film to digital, her approach to her work as a film’s “first audience,” guarding herself from knowledge of what happened on set and letting the footage tell her the story, accepting the prospect of having to repeatedly prove to executives her level of craft, no matter how far along she is in her career, and more.
Prince-Bythewood speaks for her part to her draw to Shropshire’s early work on Kasi Lemmons’ film Eve’s Bayou, the letter Shropshire wrote that landed her Love & Basketball and what she learned from the editor on that film, the unbreakable trust she and Shropshire share after working on five films together, their notes process and method of communicating during production, recalibrating at a point in the Woman King shoot when she realized she was “surviving and not thriving,” and why the post-production process is as “fraught” for a filmmaker as any other stage of a project’s creation.
The Woman King helmer also reflects on her struggle, as a female filmmaker, to be accepted into the “big sandbox” of action tentpoles before her work with Skydance on The Old Guard, navigating an industry where women’s “capabilities are constantly questioned,” and more.
Watch the full conversation above.