I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word chess, automatically the name Bobby Fischer pops into my head. It’s generally not a game I identify with African-American players.
Although, there have been several players of color. In 2014, Cuba Gooding, Jr starred in Life of a King, about Eugene Brown. Brown started a chess club for inner city students in Washington D.C. after he had been jailed for 18 years.
Maurice Ashley is a Jamaican American chess grandmaster, author, commentator, app designer, puzzle inventor, and motivational speaker. In 1992, he shared the United States Game/10 chess championship with Maxim Dlugy. Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation (FIDE) awarded him the grandmaster title in 1999, making him the world’s first Jamaican chess International Grandmaster. Ashley is well-known as a commentator for high-profile chess events, spent many years teaching chess and On April 13, 2016, was inducted officially into the US Hall of Fame along with Chess Grandmaster Gata Kamsky.
Enter Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the streets of Kampala, Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess by soccer coach and former missionary Robert Katende. As a result, she is encouraged to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Queen of Katwe is Phiona’s story of discovery, love, sacrifice and developing the heart of a lion king while accomplishing a feat even she thought was impossible.
In 2012, at the age of 16, at her second Olympiad, she became a Woman Candidate Master, the first step towards Grand Master. Earlier this year Phiona graduated from St. Mbuga Vocational Secondary School and is now applying to college and hopes to become a doctor or lawyer.
Played majestically perfect by Madina Nalwanga, “Phiona’s story is like my story,” Nalwanga says. “Her background is like my background, but for her it was chess that changed everything and for me it was dancing and singing.”
It was refreshing to see that Disney made a huge effort to keep this story’s authenticity by casting actors from Uganda and South Africa. Both David Oyelowo as Robert Katende and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o seemed destined to be part of the project.
The role of Harriet was written for Nyong’o, whom director Mira Nair has known for years. “I thought of Harriet as a young Mother Courage, and that is the strength and beauty that is in Lupita,” says Nair. A child of East Africa, an alumnus of Maisha Film Lab and an intern at Nair’s production company Mirabai Films in New York, Nyong’o shot to fame with her Oscar®-winning performance in “12 Years a Slave,” which she followed with roles in “Star Wars: A Force Awakens” and “The Jungle Book.”
“I have a daughter and I want her to watch this film and feel like she can do anything because she is worthy of it, because she applies herself, as we see Phiona do,” says David Oyelowo. My hope is that some girl in Iowa who wants to be a pilot will watch this film and be inspired to do what she wants to do.”
Queen of Katwe is an inspiring, uplifting film that reminds its audience that anything is possible with a little hard work, support, love, self-confidence and belief in one’s self.