“Queen Of Katwe” (Pt. 1 of 2): Why You Must Watch It

If you ask anyone what movie made them cry the most, I’d predict that 9 out of 10 would say, “The Color Purple” (which only broke me down at the final scene – yeah, there’s a funny blog coming about that later – there always is). If you ask ME, I’d have to say the 2016 Disney biography “Queen of Katwe”; but not for the reasons one would think, which I’d like to talk about (without spoilers). It’s a beautiful movie that I hope to encourage you to watch, learn and enjoy for yourself. And trust me, it’s an experience you’ll not soon forget.

“Queen Of Katwe” takes place in Katwe, the largest of 8 slums located less than 2 miles from the central business district of Kampala (Uganda’s capital). The movie’s focus is on young Phiona Mutesi (played by Madina Nalwanga), who happens upon the strange game of chess while following her brother, Brian, who disappears after (sometimes during) their daily task of selling maize to help feed their struggling family.

Phiona and brother Brian attempt to sell maize in the congested streets of Katwe.

Unbeknownst to Phiona and their widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), Brian has joined a team of youths who had been learning chess, taught by Robert Kutende (David Oyelowo), who utilizes the game and their interests as an opportunity to share his Christian faith.

Initially drawn by the daily serving of porridge that Katende provides for the children, Phiona quickly learns and masters the game, leading to her recognition within the community and eventually internationally as a Chess phenom with the potential and aspirations to someday become a Grandmaster.

Her story was so intriguing that it was eventually featured in ESPN The Magazine in January of 2001, which later piqued the interest of Disney Studios, who created the movie. It wasn’t until recently that I first saw the movie on Disney Plus and I have to admit that it had me in tears, 4 or 5 times, tugging me up and down its emotional roller coaster of events. Last night, I watched it for the 5th time and let me say that it never gets boring.

Although this tale revolves around Mutesi, it contains three equally powerful stories, of which, we can all learn incredible lessons:

  • Robert Katende’s vision and efforts to provide opportunities and realistic dreams to children who otherwise have nothing but the daily challenges of survival, living in an impoverished community.
  • Phiona’s desire to learn and grow in a field that has been previously unknown to her environment, where soccer (aka Football) is the most prominent recreational outlet. She plays, unaware that her skill set will soon be revered by the most respected names in many countries. She quickly has to adjust to a new world (outside of her home village and Uganda), all the while being forced to live in the “real world” where a home and a meal come from hard work.
  • Mother Harriet’s fight to provide a stable home for her family, trying to support a daughter whose ultimate fate may eventually be the same hard life that she endured after the loss of her children’s father.

If you read my two series, “Africa: More Than Just Hollywood’s Black Panther” and “Africa To America”, you already understand why it’s so important for people outside of the magnificent continent to learn more about it. Our views have been skewed by Hollywood, Television, the media and inaccurate assumptions made by people that know little-to-nothing about it. And although this is not representative of life throughout Africa, it paints a clearer picture of what some people face in an existence less privileged than the ones many of us know and live. Set in Katwe, there are images of the great capital city of Kampala in the background, which helps to emphasize how difficult it must be to struggle for a comfortable life when there is a daily reminder of it in view on the horizon. So let me reiterate that although this is not way in every country or city, it is the life of many. The message we need to extract from this is how one’s dreams are not bound by their surroundings. I share this story because it’s a remarkable tale of determination and perseverance. A tale of family unity. A tale of abundant love.

…and that’s it! My reasons why you need to take time out to watch this masterpiece. Check it out! You can borrow the book or video from your local library or view it on Disney+. You can rent it on Amazon Prime.

As I said before, I’ve seen it several times and frankly, I can’t get enough of it. This morning, I just finished the fascinating book which provided me with a plethora of information through the backstories of each character, in addition to those never mentioned in the movie. And to think I thought I had learned enough. My God, the story behind the story is an experience in itself.

But don’t worry, I’ll be talking about that too and soon…

To be continued in “Queen Of Katwe” (Pt. 2 of 2): Now That You’ve Seen/Read It”.

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