Chess is a game of strategy and problem-solving. Maybe it’s a cliché to say it’s a metaphor for life itself, but that metaphor is bigger, more pronounced and more profound for a girl living in one of the most challenging places on earth.
Katwe, a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden slum of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is the home of Phiona Mutesi, once a charming illiterate girl selling ears of corn on the street, now an internationally renowned chess champion transformed into The Queen of Katwe.
Phiona’s story is similar to many inspirational, true-life triumph sports films made before it, but Queen of Katwe transcends the mundane and predictable with its rich portrait of a person who refuses to be defined by her roots. The director communicates this by her opening shots, which aren’t the expected scenes of a city in overrun in poverty and people living with the threat of violence. Instead the movie opens with sun-soaked scene bursting with life and color. The audience feels that Katwe is a village as beautiful as it is dangerous, vibrant as it is depressed.
Phiona, played with easy sincerity by first-timer Madina Nalwanga, is 11-years old when the movie begins. Although Queen is primarily Phiona’s story, it’s also her mother’s. Nyongo’s remarkable performance of Harriet is placed perfectly with the right levels of desperation and depression though it was never spoken even during her vulnerable moments that are present in every scene. She is a woman with pride and trusts no one on the streets of Katwe.
The film features universal life lessons in patience, fish-out-of-water comedy and tear jerking Ugandan patriotism. It’s an underdog story, comfortable in many ways. However, I don’t think anyone cared because the director emphasized authenticity in the performances and setting. The drama at the chess board will please crowds, but it’s the real drama in Phiona’s home that’s the most gripping and make you want to talk about this irresistible movie for days to come.
Queen of Kawte is a must see for everyone who has ever challenged the power of the human imagination. Grab your family and/or friend and see this film.