Queen of Katwe Review!

Jondee here in Uganda,

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

Queen of Katwe is sublime. It is a cinematic experience to lift you up with hope. You will love this film if you are a human being. This film gives a true picture of Africa, not it’s conflict, or tribal people, all real, but this story reveals the spirit of Africa. It is centered around newcomer, Madinga Nalwanga, as real life girl and chess champion, Phiona Mutesi. She has all of the hope, frustration, and struggle of her counterpart in this performance. Nalwanga reminds of Leleti Khumalo playing the lead role in the Sarafina! (1992) musical who was also inspired by her teacher and mother. In the case of her mother, Nakku Harriet, she is played by Lupita N`yongo in a very powerful part. I’ve only heard her in her voice over performances, but here she has all of the strength of a mother holding her family together. For her teacher whom she calls Coach, Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo. He is caught between helping the kids of Katwe, the team he calls the Pioneers, to fulfill their potential and his own struggles to find an engineering job. The film was based on the article and book by Tim Crothers for ESPN, the film is co-produced by ESPN films. Director Mira Nair was presented with the story of Phiona by Disney executive, Tendo Nagenda, at her home in Uganda. She directed Salaam Bombay! (1988), Mississippi Masala (1991), and Vanity Fair (2004). The film opens in 2011 with Fiona competing in a chess tournament. Then, the narrative shifts to Fiona in 2007 before she played chess. Fiona lives in a sparse home, really a shack, with her mother, two brothers, older Brian (Martin Kabanza) and infant Richard, and sister, Night (Taryn Kyaze). Night is taken with a boy who can offer her money, but her mother doesn’t like this sort of life for her daughter. Fiona has to bring maize to a seller.

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This is interwoven with the life of Robert who is able to get a part time job for the ministry teaching boys football (soccer). He realizes that two boys can’t play because they can’t afford hospital bills for medical care. This is where he decides to teach chess and relates a story where he made money playing against other boys. The interesting part of Fiona’s life is a bricklayer who asks her, “Hey Fiona, how is your life?”, he is seen throughout the film so we can get a look at her progress. Robert has gathered the Katwe children in a small building that they quickly clean to set up their chess games. Fiona is outside watching them when Robert calls her in with an offer of a cup of porridge. She is bullied by the other kids for her smell, we can see the distinctions of people at all levels of society there. Robert watches as Fiona defends herself and has her sit next to Gloria (Nikita Waligwa). She explains some of the game to her, “In chess, the small one can become the big one.” Every character is incredible in this film. Fiona uses one of her family’s water canisters to wash and returns to play. Robert can see that Fiona is persistent, a quality that has her constantly learning the game, and makes her a champion. She carries with her a chess piece that is her piece of home and all of her accomplishments. Fiona has to struggle with life in Katwe, some of it is heart stopping, and open to life outside of Katwe that is difficult for the children to adapt. It is wealthy, older kids in uniforms. Then, from there to international tournaments in Russia, a place so strange for all of them. This is an important film for all of the filmmakers and for you. It is a complete picture of a person, triumphs and failures, and the people around them. Five Chess Pieces out of Five!

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