Queen of Katwe is based on a true story, and the book The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion, which I now want to read. It follows Phiona (pronounced “Fiona”) Matesi, a girl from the streets of Uganda who eventually learns the game of chess, and later goes to national tournaments to pursue her dream of becoming a grandmaster.
Phiona (newcomer Madina Nalwanga) lives with her mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o), two brothers, and occasionally her sister, in a very poor rural area of Uganda. She helps her mother sell maiz (corn) and that is her life – until one day, she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who hosts a chess club of sorts for the kids, and she starts to learn the game. It turns out that Phiona has a great aptitude for chess, and soon she starts going to regional and national tournaments. At the same time, however, she and her family become homeless, and life in Uganda gets harder and harder for them.
This film was very good, and Nalwanga, Nyong’o and Oyelowo were great in their roles, as was the supporting cast. According to IMDb, the movie actually was filmed in Uganda, as well as South Africa, and Disney does a great job of showing the local backgrounds. We also see how Phiona grew up – at first, she and her family have a “house” there, which is basically a shack with some misshapen boards, but eventually her mother cannot afford rent, and they are evicted. Later, they rent part of an old church, but it has no roof, so when there’s a flood in Katwe, they lose some of their meager possessions, and Phiona’s younger brother almost perishes, as well.
Yes, see this movie. I found the story to be very interesting, and it kept my attention for most of the film’s runtime. It’s no surprise that Nyong’o and Oyelowo are great in their roles, but this is Madina Nalwanga’s first movie, which I found to be shocking, because she was very good here in the lead role. I’d recommend this movie for anyone who enjoys a good story, or learning about cultures other than theirs; make sure to stay tuned up until right before the credits, too, as it shows the actors plus the real-life people they were portraying.
Queen of Katwe is in theaters today, September 30th, and is rated PG with a runtime of 124 minutes. 4 stars out of 5.