Like many, I missed seeing Queen of Katwe when it was in the theaters – we were out of town during the press screening and didn’t make it to the theater during its run. Fortunately, the film does not need a big screen to entertain and inspire. Queen of Katwe was a surprise and delight for me.
Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from Uganda who lived in the slums of Katwe. The movie is filmed on location, including at the church where Mutesi learned the game of chess – the game that eventually was her ticket out of poverty. The role of Phiona is played by Madina Nalwanga, an extremely talented newcomer (none of the kids in the film have been in a movie before), who lights up the screen in every scene.
David Oyelowo plays Robert Katende, who is a director of Sports Outreach and teaches kids in Katwe how to play chess, with the goal of teaching them discipline and giving them a way out of the slums. Phiona is an exceptional learner, and Katende realizes that quickly. Phiona does vascillate between strength and doubt, even believing that she shouldn’t beat boys or a student from a prestigious school when the Katwe group plays against those who have more academic experience than the group from Katwe does (Phiona herself had to drop out of school at a young age, but we do see her learning to read).
Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet, is played aptly by Lupita Nyong’o. Phiona is very fortunate that her protective mom allowed her to pursue a dream that she didn’t have to begin with. Getting out of the Katwe slums is not something that most kids are able to do. Life in Katwe is not easy, Phiona would get up early every morning to do hard chores, followed by more work to help support the family
I expected Queen of Katwe to be more formulaic – like with a faux villain or heavy drama added to a story based on true events to try to extract more emotions from viewers. While I’m sure some of the story was dramatized, I found the story seemed pretty in line with what I’ve since read.
Director Mira Nair pressed for Queen of Katwe to be filmed on location. It gives the movie the realism it needed. I really enjoyed this film very much and recommend it.
Mousesteps Grade for Queen of Katwe: A-
There are also bonus features, and they complement the film – I especially quite enjoyed the first two here, which help explain how the movie came about and the people behind the story.
- Queen Of Katwe: Their Story – Discover the stories behind the people who came together to bring the film to life, and how they reflect the vibrant community, culture and spirit it celebrates.
- A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight – Director Mira Nair’s short film about Robert Katende, a boy who grows up to transform a Ugandan city into a globally renowned chess sanctuary.
- In The Studio With Alicia Keys – Go behind-the-scenes with Alicia Keys for an inspiring look at the song’s recording.
- Alicia Keys “Back To Life” Lyric Video – Sing along with on-screen lyrics.
- Young Cardamom & HAB “#1 Spice” Music Video – The Ugandan hip-hop duo bring the flavor in a music video directed by Mira Nair.
- Audio Commentary – With Director Mira Nair.
- Deleted Scenes – With Introductions by Director Mira Nair.