For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game.
Mutesi is a strong child with a budding intellect that’s just waiting to be discovered. When watching the film she reminded me a lot of Malala (the girl shot by Taliban because she wanted to go to school) just because of her inner strength. It was not easy living in these slums as her mother struggled to sell vegetables in the market while parenting three children. It also didn’t help the situation when we discover that the radical child Night (Taryn Kyaze) was also the oldest and had zero interest in watching her younger siblings (and often found herself in trouble).
With a mountain to climb, the story of this little girl is incredible, as she not only has to overcome her living situation (they get evicted at one point), her younger brother gets in a car accident and has to go to the hospital, she has to earn the respect of the male players in her village, then Coach Robert has to deal with pushback from the private school where the big chess tournament is hosted (because the school didn’t want children from the slums to participate), and the mountain just continued to grow. Coach Robert was so committed to her and the rest of the players in their village that when it came time to compete nationally and internationally he raised the money himself, often times gambling on soccer games.
This was Disney’s first time filming in Africa and they chose quite a story to make history with.To add to its authenticity, my guest from Togo saw this with me and confirmed the legitimacy of the film’s location by pointing out the different villages and markets in the film that she herself have seen. Phiona mutesi is an inspiration to all and especially young girls across the globe. This film further proves that the most important asset we have around us are the children. We must nurture, support, and protect that asset.
Queen of Katwe gets a 9 out of 10. It’s a great and motivational “feel good” story that everyone can enjoy and learn from.