“Queen of Katwe” is the true rags to riches story of Uganda native Phiona Mutesi. (played by Madina Naiwanga). It’s a story about her family that live in the poverty stricken town of Katwe , where she discovers the power of chess and goes on to play in the 41st Chess Olympiad.
This moving story begins with Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) a widow just trying to keep the family afloat, living in a shack with her 3 siblings. Phiona walks into town and fills huge containers of drinkable water for her family every morning and sells maze every afternoon. She and her sibling don’t attend school, because their mother can’t afford to send them. One day, she follows her brother to a church outreach sports program where ‘Coach’ Robert (David Oyelowo) is teaching the children the sport of chess.
Filmed in the actual town of Katwe, filmmaker Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”) boldly pulls no punches in presenting the dire conditions of the village. The direction of the children is lovely and light, it’s enjoyable to watch the growth of Phiona in her life, along with her brother and her friends. The story, originally told in an ESPN magazine article, is truly a testament to having a dream and pursuing it fully and how it can change your life. Bringing home the point that with the combination of belief in yourself and your community, love of friends and family and honest hard work and study, anyone can achieve anything. The charming capper to the film is, during the end credits where every actor was joined by their real life counter parts.
The only thing that I would change about this film is, there was so much story to tell and so much information that was crammed into two hours, it may have been more fully realized if they made it into a miniseries and took the time that was needed to fully tell it. But that’s just me.
“Queen of Katwe” is a true gem and a wonderful reminder that not only are there great real life, feel good stories out there – there are great real life, feel good people out there too. Go see “Queen of Katwe” give it the props it deserves.