Film Review: ‘THE QUEEN OF KATWE’ Brings Girl Power to The Game of Chess


What’s the story:

In a poor township outside Kampala, Uganda – chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga) lives with her siblings and her widowed mother  Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o).  Nakku, scratches out a living selling food on the street in the Katwe slums. The family has a ramshackle existence – consumed by worry, fatigue and scarcely having enough food to eat.

As part of a sports outreach program run by a local teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), whose own youth was scarred by poverty and war – decides to teach a scrappy group of youth the art of chess, a game he mastered at a young age. Katende soon meets Phiona and realizes that this young girl from Katwe has a special gift, especially when she starts beating him. The resourceful coach, talks his way into a chess tournament held at an elitist private school and proudly leads his ‘underdogs’ into competition against opponents who are reluctant to even shake their hands. But Phiona’s confidence grows, along with her chess acumen. And after winning many smaller competitions, she and her teacher head to national and global tournaments – but she isn’t infallible… Pride gets in the way, and the gifted prodigy learns a lesson in humility.


Fe Media Says:

“The Queen of Katwe” is a beautifully told inspirational drama about the hardship of living in Uganda’s slum and the power of following your dreams. Indian American filmmaker Mira Nair (Hysterical Blindness (2002), The Namesake(2006), Amelia (2009)) captures the streets of Uganda in a way we haven’t seen before – she does not Disney-fy the hardships of Uganda’s poor. The struggle is visible and palpable – and we are witness to the brutal choices and painful limitations placed on women like Harriet.
Nyong’os’ passionate portrayal makes Harriet real, lending an almost tangible quality to the character. We can feel her fear for her family’s future – and her struggles to keep the family fed and sheltered while also keeping her dignity. David Oyelowo in the role of Robert Katende, captures the profound struggle of a coach trying to keep his team going – all while feeling the heavy responsibility to provide for his own family. In many ways, it’s Robert’s and Harriet’s story as much as it is Phiona’s.


Newcomer Marina Nalwanga portrayal of Phiona, is understated yet powerful, driving the film’s main plot. Audiences will root for Phiona, as she strives to do all she can to become a chess master. Equally impactfull is the end of the film – as we meet the real Nakku, Phiona and Robert and learn what has become of them.

“Queen of Katwe” is rated PG. The family friendly inspirational take on the real-life, Ugandan chess champ Phiona Mutesi has few scary moments and some subtle hints of sexuality.

Families can talk about: The importance of mentorship, education, the perils of poverty and the power of overcoming insurmountable challenges.



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