'Queen of Katwe' delivers on telling a Ugandan prodigy's story
By Keith Mugarura
When it was first announced that Hollywood was considering adapting Tim Crothers's book about Phiona Mutesi - the Ugandan chess prodigy who beat insurmountable odds to wow the world - for the big screen, few thought it would be something to write home about. Sure, Hollywood has in the past attempted to capture Africans' stories. But they always fell short of telling the real story, from Africans' perspectives.
Rather, it's often been a shot or two of say Johannesburg's skyline, or of refugees somewhere with forlorn looks on their faces.
Mira Nair - Queen of Katwe's director - steps away from the aforementioned cliches. She shines a bright light on a story rife with immense struggle, and through perseverance with mentorship from the right people, a real shot at success is on the horizon.
Phiona Mutesi's story is being told in the book, and ultimately in this movie. But it's hard for one to not catch a glimpse of their life in this story: being born into abject poverty, to parents that wouldn't comprehend the importance of going to school and how that could change everything for the better. Or the importance of honing a skill even when they'd rather have you run their errands - like vending merchandise to put food on the table.
Queen shows us that we are our own obstacle to crossing whatever bridge we need to. This couldn't be truer than how Robert Katende - Phiona's mentor played by David Oyelowo - went about showing a young girl from the slums of Katwe and host of other curious young minds that they aren't destined to leading lives of hopelessness.
Phiona is played by Madina Nalwanga in an outstanding debut onto the big screen. Her mother, Harriet Nakku is played by Lupita Nyong'o, who shuts down her naysayers who love to rail on about her debut in 12 Years a Slave was more of a lucky break. Robert Katende is played by David Oyelowo, in a remarkable performance, perhaps the best in his career thus far.
They all knocked this out of the park.
Queen of Katwe premieres in local theaters at a date to be communicated.