Queen of Katwe is a film that slowly reels in your heart, if not simply for the innocence and integrity of its heroine Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga). On the surface it is a story of an underdog chess prodigy, however the story soon evolves, foregrounding the fierce love of a mother in Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), the desperation of a coach in Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and the courage of a young girl not to stop.
The film excels in portraying both the struggle of daily life in the poverty stricken Katwe, and in attempts to escape it. Amongst this background of tragic inequality, the pupils of Katende – aptly named the ‘Pioneers’ – shine as beacons of hope and joy. They lead this heart-warming tale with cheeky humour and eternal optimism. The film is made more poignant by the fact it is based on a true story, which makes the achievements and nature of Phiona all that more inspiring.
Director Mira Nair succeeds in depicting the struggle of a young girl to overcome not only sexism and elitism but also the realities of a life without an education. The film raises some thought-provoking questions about success and how far one should go without putting other things first, and the main message rings true throughout: the power of believing in yourself and others.
This Disney film stays true to its notion of hopefulness as it portrays the life of not only Phiona but the young children around her who learned chess with bottle caps. Throughout it is made clear that the strength of the children comes from deep within their sheer desperation to not only survive, but to thrive. The film, due to this, gives chess a whole new meaning. Rather than being a hobby, it is their ticket to a way out; thus, it becomes something of huge importance: an opportunity to live better. Expect from this film a true story of an incredible girl who would not give up her king without a fight.
Image: Melissa Hillier; Flickr.com