The Queen of Katwe is an uplifting and heartwarming new movie, one which will perhaps take Disney fans by surprise. A far cry from the sparkle and magic of your favourite Disney movies, The Queen of Katwe is set in the slums of Uganda, its heroine an illiterate and underprivileged young girl. There is no prince, no baddie, no fairy godmother – just pure talent, ambition and drive, the support of an incredible mentor, and the love of a strong no-nonsense mother.
Growing up in a Kampala shantytown, life is hard for 10 year old Phiona and her family. One day, she comes across a little chess club established by coach Robert Katende and, spotting her peering in through the doorway, he invites her to join. After a rocky start, Phiona shows incredible talent – so much so that she goes on to become a chess champion.
While it’s perhaps not as gritty as real life in the developing world, it’s not polished or picture perfect – it’s the sort of film that’s real and evocative enough for the Katwe dust to stick in your throat, and for you to burst into a grin when Phiona wins her first game. What makes the film really unique, though, is that it sheds a different light on Africa. While Phiona’s family deals with hardship and hunger, it’s not their fear that’s compelling but their strength and their ties to each other and their country.
Overall, it’s a beautiful and empowering film, and one I’d recommend for anyone of any age – although under 8 they may find the story hard to follow. The sweet spot for me is that tricky time around age 9 to 12 when ‘tween’ girls are just finding their way – this empowering film will show her that she really can do or be anything.
The Queen of Katwe is out in UK cinemas on October 21st, in time for October half-term, and I can’t wait to take my 9 year old and her friends.
Watch the trailer for The Queen of Katwe:
More about the film – Official Synopsis (Disney UK):
Queen of Katwe is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) from a screenplay by William Wheeler (The Hoax) based on the book by Tim Crothers, Queen of Katwe is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher (The Darjeeling Limited) and John Carls (Where the Wild Things Are) with Will Weiske and Troy Buder serving as executive producers. The film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo (Selma), Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.
For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (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 (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. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.