“Queen of Katwe” is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a girl struggling to survive on the streets of rural Uganda. Her life changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and she learns the confidence and determination needed to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. This film is from Disney, a company that has honed the art of bringing fact-based stories to the big screen while crafting heartwarming films that captivate audiences. “Queen of Katwe” has all the elements that allows Disney to continue adding ‘wins” to their track record.
The scenery of the film immediately transports the viewer to Africa. As the camera pans across the town of Katwe, we are taken to a place that is not always viewed in the best light. By the movie filming on location in and around Katwe and Kibuli in Kampala, Uganda as well as in Johannesburg, South Africa not only retains the authenticity of the story remains, but viewers get a chance to see a hopefulness not usually associated with countries in Africa.
Actor David Oyelowo, who plays Robert Katende said:
“As a Nigerian, I’m frustrated by how little we see of the real face of Africa in Western movies, how we’re always confronted with the dark side – dictators, genocide, disease – when I know this continent is filled with tremendous stories of hope, triumph, love and joy.”
Joy is what the real Phiona Mutesi found as well. She says that “[B]efore I met Robert and started playing chess, I had lost all hope, I was sad because I recently lost my dad and there was no money for school and I thought I would always be living on the streets.”
Phiona sells corn on the crowded streets of Kawte with her brother Brian, trying to earn enough money for her family to scrape by for another day. Her older sister, Night, escapes her life of poverty by going out with a young man who doesn’t have the best intentions.
Each day her brother Brian shirks his time hawking goods by disappearing and Phiona follows him, curious about what he is up to. She sees him with other children, getting a meal and learning the game of chess. Phiona is drawn to the porridge but as she learns to move the chess pieces around the board she becomes more enthralled by the game. Despite being illiterate and her mother’s growing skepticism, Phiona continues to study chess and whets her appetite to win.
I really enjoyed this movie, and I am really happy that the director respected the audience enough not to delve into kitsch, but allowed the viewer to know Phiona and her town, and really want to root for their success.
Why I think people should see the movie:
- Chess! I have always been intimidated by this game even as I encouraged The Boy to learn the game. The way it’s explained (a game of strategy) made me think that just maybe I can learn. Upper Darby residents can go to the Lansdowne Public Library for their renowned Chess Club.
- Unlike other films about saving the lives of Black children through education, this movie doesn’t feature a Great White Hope. Robert Katende knows what it is like to struggle, live without his family, and struggle to survive. He offers chess as an alternative for the children who aren’t able to play football because they “may break a bone and there is no money for hospitals”.
- Lupita Nyong’o will give you life. She loses herself in the role, embodying the role of concerned mother Nakku Harriet. Harriet struggles to keep her family afloat and thinks chess is a waste of time. She describes herself as an uneducated woman who thinks it’s silly to play games when there is work to be done.
- You’ll get a better appreciation for the importance of equal and quality education. Phiona doesn’t learn to read until she is about 11. Once she begins to read, Phiona is unstoppable. I know that this wasn’t an exaggeration because I have helped many women from countries in Africa learn to write their names and addresses. Education for all is important, but the gap in education for girls in other countries is staggering.
- The gap between the haves and the haves not is not exclusive to the United States. There’s a scene where Katende signs the children into a tournament at a private school. The school is less than receptive receiving these children, claiming that the children will bring crude behavior.
- It’s a movie the family can enjoy. There is no gratuitous foul language, sex scenes, or violence. The few scenes that may have been a little dicey for younger viewers does not take away from the over all message of the movie.
Queen of Katwe will be released in select theaters on September 23rd. After seeing the film pick up a copy of the book (disclosure, clicking this link will take you to my Amazon affiliate link). A portion of the proceeds go to Phiona Mutesi and her family.