Queen of Katwe is the inspiring film is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, who rose from a poverty-stricken community in Uganda to become an international chess champion.
Directed by Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe is an adaptation of the book The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path To Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers, which is a biography of chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi.
At 9 years old, Phiona had to drop out of school, as her family couldn’t afford to send her any longer. One day, while on the street, she met Robert Katende who offered her a cup of porridge and invited her to learn to play chess at a program supported by the Sports Outreach Institute. As the saying goes… the rest is history.
The film, which was shot entirely on location in South Africa and Uganda, stars Madina Nalwanga as Phiona, with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o playing her mother Harriet, and David Oyelowo cast as her chess teacher, Robert.
“This is a story about the commitment to a dream even in the most discouraging of situations,” said Nyong’o in describing the film. “The slum of Katwe is a very difficult place to live, but you see these people living there with dignity and making it day by day. And so to go there and to have that environment to work from really did sober us and enliven us.”
Official film synopsis
For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet, 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, 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 by the intelligence and wit 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.
Today, Phiona is studying at a small college in Washington State in the U.S. She hopes to become a pediatrician and plans to go back to Katwe after school “to build a home to provide shelter, offer clinic care and education for the slum children.”
Update 7/27/18: You can now view the film on Netflix!
Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, Queen of Katwe will be in theaters September 23.