I had the privilege of attending an advanced screening and post live simulcast q & a of QUEEN OF KATWE thanks to MMT. The film tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a young lady from Katwe, Uganda who, along with other children known as the Pioneers, is taught by Coach Robert Katende how to play chess.
They soon discover Phiona is not only good at the game, but a prodigy. The moment she realizes that life is more than where she lives truly stands out. Chess being a game of strategy and thinking ahead for the best solution is also used as a metaphor for life as a whole. A signature line from the film notes, “Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you need to be.”
This is not only a must see film, but one of the most brilliant I have seen this year. Kudos to Disney for stepping up to make this incredible movie the way it should be made. By choosing this story (based on Tim Crothers ESPN article and book); basing it on Phiona’s perspective; choosing a female director of color in Mira Nair; filming on location in Katwe; and using mostly locals as cast and crew, Disney’s choices are admirable, and “outside the box” of Hollywood’s norm. Films being made like this will continue to create the necessary change towards diversity.
Mira Nair’s vision was best expressed during the q & a when she said, “The beautiful imagery of art imitating life, but it is life. This is true, this is happening now.” She also noted that,” You could see the respect the actors showed the real people they were portraying.”
The majority of Mira’s crew is from Maisha Film Lab (emerging East African filmmakers) associated with the Maisha Foundation she created in 2004 – after working in the region on another film, “Mississippi Masala.”
The casting for the film was on point. David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Coach Robert Katende showed his true range as an actor, as he took you on the journey with him, all aspects of it. Lupita Nyong’o portrayed Nakku Harriet, Phiona’s mother with depth and just made you hurt and feel joy with her.
Also during the q & a, newcomer Madina Nalwanga (of Katwe) shared that (while filming) she felt like it was her story and it showed. The other children, and many extras, were also from Katwe and a similar neighboring town.
The real Robert Katende taught each of the child actors how to play chess. All of the original Pioneers had another role in the film. All of these things bring an authenticity to what’s displayed on-screen.
Since it was filmed on location, you also get to see the not-so glamorous side of life – in addition to the vibrant culture and landscape. And the music chosen also added to scenes. My favorite selection is “Back to Life” by Alicia Keys, which is a true reflection of the film.
“Queen of Katwe” will inspire you and leave you wondering what else you can accomplish in your own life. The range of emotions in the film, and the journey you take while watching, will truly fulfill you.
QUEEN OF KATWE opened in select theaters on Friday, and opens nationwide Friday, September 30th.
Carolee Houser Dunn is a Philly tastemaker, jewelry designer, and faithful friend and subscriber to the MMT. You can check out her previous review for POMPEII right here on MusicMoviesThoughts!