4 out of 5 stars
“The move is there, but you must see it.” ― Savielly Tartakower
Life in the slums of Kampala, Uganda can be dark, depressing and dangerous. Phiona Mutasei (New-comer Madina Nalwanga) and her family have very little when it comes to physical possessions, but they do have one another to help them through the tough times. In amongst the dirt roads and shanty houses are mission workers who are trying to provide hope for the children. Besides their belief in God, It is hard to imagine that chess would become a hope for escape some of the children of Kampala. Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) is a missionary who feeds the children and then teaches them how to play chess. Many of them become accomplished in their skills and see the chess room as a haven from the depressing world outside. Phiona comes upon the small group through her brother. She is intrigued by the game and under Robert’s coaching, finds herself thrown into the world of competitive chess. As she is exposed to the world outside of Kampala, she must come to terms with what she desires to do with the next move in her life. Stay in Uganda or travel the world.
It is hard to imagine what the concept meeting was like when proposing Queen of Katwa to the producers. The slums of Uganda, a missionary outreach and chess are not necessarily the most compelling story elements to consider for a big budget film, but in the end they work together to deliver a charming film of hope.
Award-winning documentary and Bollywood director Mira Nair takes on this unique concept and moulds an inspiring tale that does not diminish the world that it is based. She is able to draw out the humanity of a world that most people would only see in compassion commercials. Showing the stark atmosphere that Phiona and her family reside without devaluing the people or the lives that they are born into and has shaped them. Many times directors strive to get the lead characters out of their impoverished atmosphere, but Nair chooses to remain in the slums. She walks the fine line of does not glamourising this world and showing how it has helped to develop the character of the people who live in these surroundings. Nair’s skills as a documentary film maker provided a refreshing and realistic view of Phiona’s life by sharing her background and all that she has to experience in her short span of life.
Another element that adds to the delivery of this story is the combination of fresh new acting talent and premier African talent. In her acting debut, Madina Nalwanga convincingly handles the lead role with the needed innocence and confidence. She carries the wonder that comes from exposure to a new world of opportunities, but maintains the calm spirit that is needed in handling all that comes her way. David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom) provides the strength to be the father figure to the children as the chess coach and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) was captivating as the matriarch who provided and protected her family.
Queen of Katwe was welcomed surprise in this season of sequels and blockbusters. Hats off to Disney for allowing a little story to be brought to the big screen. The value of the film merely needs to be teased out and allowed to shine. This true-to-life story is suited for all age groups and allows people of faith to be seen as adding value to communities around the world.
REEL DIALOGUE: The love of a mother is a beautiful thing to see and experience.
In the Queen of Katwe, Nakku Harriet proves that no mother is perfect, but that she is perfect for the situation and family that she has been given. It would be easy to focus on the the situations around this family, but the value of the film is to see the value of a mother’s love. Proverbs 31 gives us a glimpse into the value that women bring to the lives of their families. Showing that God has a beautiful purpose for the role of the mother.
Passages on the love of a mother: Proverbs 31, Isaiah 66:13, Titus 2:4