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 with the intelligence and with what 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.
“Queen of Katwe” is a wonderful film about the ability of the human spirit to triumph over all challenges, including poverty. A youth minister in the film named Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) makes the statement that challenges are not a curse. He teaches poor children in Uganda the strategies of the game of chess, and one girl, Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), excels in the game and soon surpasses her fellow players. Her mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), resists Phiona’s involvement at first, but Robert convinces her that the strategies of the game will actually open up other doors for Phiona, including opportunities for more education. In fact, he has his wife teach Phiona how to read. The movie is imaginatively directed, and best of all, it is based on a true story.
The film features superb acting, especially that of the three main characters — Oyelowo as Coach Robert, Nalwanga as Phiona, and Nyong’o as her mother. It also features neat examples, or stories, such as the one in which Robert explains why the cat outran the dog. “The dog was running for a meal,” says Coach Robert, “while the cat was running for his life.” He also says that sometimes the place where we are comfortable may not be the place where we belong. Phiona takes on this same mentality, determined to improve and be a master, a chess champion who can enjoy a better life. Part of this dream includes purchasing a nice home for her mother, who has lived in terrible conditions, even in an alley at one point.
The characters in this film are memorable, and Phiona’s journey is inspiring as she flies to various countries, including Moscow, sees snow for the first time, and continues to climb the ladder of success. We are thrilled to award this film our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal for ages 12 and older. It will have you laughing, cheering, and even crying.