Queen Of Katwe
Director: Mira Nair
Screenwriter: William Wheeler
Cast: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze, Ivan Jacobo, Nicolas Levesque, Ethan Nazario Lubega, Ronald Ssemaganda, Nikita Waligwa, Edgar Kanyike, Esther Tebandeke
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios
Rated PG | 124 Minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2016 (Limited) | September 30, 2016 (Nationwide)
Looking past all the animated features, Marvel superheroes, and Star Wars films, Disney has also been making a name for itself telling inspiring sports stories. Queen Of Katwe is just one of those films that we rarely see from a major studio, but when they put it out, you can be sure they have made every effort to make sure that it will strike an emotional chord or, in this case, make the right moves. For this film is no ordinary based on a true story about any sport, it’s about a young girl who makes it out of the slums of Uganda by playing the game of chess. A mind game so to speak where your next move could be your last. But there is also so much more to this than just moving pieces on a board. The reality is that this film is driven by themes of family and perseverance, overcoming those terrifying obstacles called real life, and realizing that even though there will be some losses, you can still come out a champion. My full review below.
Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a native of the slums of Uganda, who has to sell corn and other goods with her brother Mugabi Brian (Martin Kabanza) and mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita N’yngo) in order to provide for the family. With her sister, Night (Taryn Kyaze), refusing to do any hard work, Phiona and Brian have to do all the heavy lifting, until they come across a chess program being run by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who is going through some career struggles of his own. At first, the shy Phiona is intrigued by the game, while her fellow students are not as willing to welcome her given that she comes from the slums. However, Phiona manages to be accepted by wooing everyone with her skill and soon she advances to the top of the program, which would lead her to compete at an elite level.
The story of an unknown becoming a prodigy can be a bit cookie cutter at times, but here the film highlights Phiona’s struggles on and off the board. On the board, she is seen as someone who is a nobody who lives in the slums; off the board, we see her endure all sorts of hardships from starvation to not being lured by the prospects of living a lavish lifestyle that pimps are selling to young girls.
Now Queen Of Kawte does have a bit of a shaky start as there are one too many tones to juggle. It’s as though they filmed too much. However, once the film gets past the first ten minutes, it finds its footing and marches on to tell a terrific inspirational story. It’s clear that Phiona’s struggles go far beyond poverty; she also has to deal with the agony of defeat. While a small subplot of dealing with issues with ego is seemingly swept under the rug, we see that Phiona really struggles with loss, because if she cannot win, it means she cannot provide for her family. The reality of all of this is there is so much more on the line for Phoina than some trophies and wins, and she clearly sees that through her impoverished family and the possible bleak future for any young girl like her living in the slums.
While Nakku is hesitant when she first hears that her children are playing games, her maternal instinct tells her that her children need to help provide for the family. It’s not as though director Mira Nair is painting her as a villain, but one that who has genuine concern for her family. Nair is able to give Nakku’s reason sincerity, as the slums can be a place where there are those who can simply take advantage of the poor and uneducated. So it is easy to see why she is so protective of her children, even if Robert’s intentions of giving her children an education are true. And it is not as though Nakku sees the errors of her ways, but more of a relief that there are human beings out there who have the capacity to be kind.
The one thing that Nair’s film succeeds in showing is the harsh reality of the dichotomy of the rich and poor, and how each social class is more than what it seems to be. Here we have a family, struggling to eat and have a roof over their heads, and those who are unable to sympathize simply because they too are trying to make ends meet or are simply unable to sympathize because they are trying to make the kind of money to live a life they cannot live. On the other side of the board, we see the rich and lavish lifestyle, and how they clearly underestimate their opponents just because they come from the slums.
Queen Of Katwe may sound like the conventional inspirational sports movie we have seen before, but it is one that is able to balance out with harsh realities of living in the slums with the story of young girl’s unnerving perseverance to become a chess champion for more than just the title, but also for her family.