Way back in early October, the family went to see the movie Queen of Katwe.
There are poor people in Uganda, but some are worse off than others. The family of Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga) is particularly destitute since her father died, with her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) trying to hold the family together. School is out of the question, as everyone tries to work on the streets, selling produce or washing car windows.
By chance, Phiona comes across a group of children learning this odd board game called chess from a teacher, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). The other kids were not happy to be around the poor, smelly girl, but she came back and showed promise in the game.
This film is based on a real person. At its heart, it is a sports movie, so it has a lot of that drama/disappointment/triumph that you’ve come to expect. Still, it works, and maintains the viewers’ interest, in part because it showed the stratification of life in the country.
There was also drama between the mother and both of her daughters. One does not have to care about chess to cheer for Fiona and her family surviving their disenfranchisement, and becoming empowered, and not just on the chessboard.
The film was directed by Mira Nair, who piloted Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala, and filmed in Uganda. The acting is solid. The authentic local color added to the enjoyment. It was really wonderful to see the real people come out at the end with actors, with Oyelowo and Katende practically twins. And there is a fun coda one ought not to miss.
Unfortunately, despite being a Disney/ESPN movie, despite very positive reviews (93% with critics, 88% with audiences at this writing), Queen of Katwe had a very disappointing box office, not even making back its $15 million costs. Perhaps it will do better on the home market.