The first word that popped into my mind after I screened Disney’s film version of Tim Crothers’ QUEEN OF KATWE was… uplifting. There just something about a triumphant “underdog” story that is good for the soul. And who does it better than ESPN when telling a truly uplifting sports themed story? No one. Except for maybe Disney. Which is why it’s absolutely perfect that the two teamed up to present the inspirational true story of Ugandan chess champion, Phiona Mutesi, and her teacher, Robert Katende, on the big screen.
Let’s start with the basics of the film. Katwe, as referenced in the title, is a poor village that sits outside of Uganda’s capital of Kampala. There, living in the slums, is Phiona (Madina Nalwanga’s film debut!), with her overworked but determined widowed mother, Nakku Harriet (another amazing performance by Lupita Nyong’o), and Phiona’s older sister and two younger brothers. Food, money, and decent living conditions are scarce…
With the promise of free porridge, Phiona and one of her brother’s join a local chess club run by Robert (played by David Oyelowo), an engineer without a job, who works part-time at a local church. Most of the kids in the club, who Robert has dubbed “The Pioneers”, are too poor to afford schooling. However the club provides them an outlet, a way to stimulate their minds and develop a new skill. It’s not long before it’s discovered that Phiona has quite the natural talent when it comes to chess!
As Robert works with Phiona and the other children to develop their talents and strategies, his emotional connection to the children and helping them overcome any challenges, grows more and more. He devotes his time making the case for the Pioneers to compete in school tournaments. Thanks to Robert’s efforts, the team becomes more successful.
One of my favorite scenes is when Phiona goes to Moscow and sees snow for the first time. For this young girl who has never experienced travel in her lifetime, the awe in her eyes is just heartwarming. When you remember that the film is based on a true story, it’s absolutely amazing how Robert has guided these children to success in the chess world, going beyond what anyone imagined!
Throughout the film, you see Phiona deal with the success and stress of winning more and more matches. You watch this young girl learn to deal with the pressure and overcome her fears of the new world she is experiencing. I highly recommend that if you have daughter’s around Phiona’s age, you take them to see this film.
Phiona doesn’t win all the games though. I think one of the great lessons in the film is when she loses her first big competition. She becomes shaken up, and wants to give up chess. Thankfully Robert is there to remind her that loosing isn’t necessarily failing. He tells her that it’s simply an opportunity for a do-over. She can learn how to do things differently next time. A great lesson for sure!
When you leave the theater, your heart will not only feel warm, but you’ll also be singing Young Cardamom & HAB’s song “#1 Spice” in your head all day long! You can download it now on Amazon for only 99 cents.
When you get down to the bare bones of the film, QUEEN OF KATWE is an uplifting story of facing a challenge, and prevailing. This is a MUST SEE, especially for older children who play sports or compete in competitive activities.
There are hints of sexuality and a few moments that may be considered too intense for very young children.
Check out a couple of clips from the film!
Queen of Katwe Trailer
QUEEN OF KATWE is out for limited release, and will arrive in theaters everywhere September 30!
While I attended an expense paid trip by Disney to Los Angeles, all opinions are 100% my own. Film images provided by Walt Disney Publications.