Disney’s Queen of Katwe Reigns Over Audiences

Disney's latest feature, Queen of Katwe, is the newest in its moving tales and depicts the life of a true Ugandan hero. 

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Disney’s Queen of Katwe will rule your heart.

Last month, I was given the great pleasure of screening of Disney’s newest flick, Queen of Katwe.

Based on the true life events of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, the movie paints a colorful albeit obstacle-filled journey for the young player.

Queen of Katwe Screening

Actress Madina Nalwanga, in her feature film debut, portrays the preteen Phiona growing up in the slums of Katwe, Uganda with her siblings and single mother Nakku Harriet, played by Lupita Nyong’o.

Phiona and her brother both forgo school to help their mother sell food during the day in order to survive, while Phiona’s older sister, Night (Taryn “Kay” Kyaze), takes on a lover who lavishes her with money and fancy clothing to her mother’s dismay.

Lamenting on her own future (and possible dependency on a man), Phiona is fatefully introduced to the world of chess by way of her brother, who joined a chess club run by Robert Katenda (played by David Oyelowo) of the Sports Outreach Institute.

Though initially combatted with a bit of resistance from her clubmates, Phiona eventually rises in the ranks and puts her life on a new course filled with success, failures, resentment, and ultimately accomplishment.

Lupita Nyong'o and Madina Nalwanga star in the triumphant true story QUEEN OF KATWE, directed by Mira Nair.
Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga star in the triumphant true story QUEEN OF KATWE, directed by Mira Nair.

While the movie is about Phiona’s triumphs, the plight of her success on those around her is definitely explored. As Phiona skills take her to competition after competition, her mother ponders on whether the young girl’s exposure to a life above the family’s means will create a sense of false hope and disillusionment.

At the same time, Robert fears his student has out mastered the teacher Phiona and that his encouragement has pushed the rising star away from everything she’d previously known.

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Though viewers are met with the seemingly typical heartfelt “triumph through tribulation” story, there’s a new twist that must be noted.

Firstly, Queen of Katwe appears to be the first Disney motion picture set outside of the United States, and the first feature in an African country — presenting a new story from a person of color told through equally talented actors from various countries of the continent.

Secondly, Indian-American director Mira Nair presented a work that was thoroughly universal — without the presence of a non-POC protagonist — where the characters were able to work through their real-life struggles and face their own adversities.

At the screening, the audience and I were treated to a special Q&A session and it was revealed Lupita would be sitting in the hot seat. After a brief discussion with Tendo Nagenda (Executive VP of Production at Disney) about being able to connect with the Ugandan story as a woman of Kenyan heritage, Lupita took questions from the audience.

Promotion for the Queen of Katwe has been somewhat scarce (in comparison to Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrin’s Home For Peculiar Children) it’s my sincere hope that Disney recognizes the sensational win they have with this movie that takes a chance on a Ugandan teen telling the very tale Disney has come synonymous with: making her dreams come true.