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Fatemah Hassanali

Date: 10/20/2016
Word count: 1089

Disneys Queen of Katwe an Honest Representation of an Underdogs
Journey to Success.
Queen of Katwe, released this year, is one of Disneys most unique films that is still
relatable to all audiences. It represents a small minority group in an unknown area of the
world yet tells a story that connects the viewers to its characters. This makes it different
from a traditional Disney movie. Directed by Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe is a story of
Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) who is from the slums of Uganda and discovers her
hidden talent in chess. Queen of Katwe is based on a true story, which was first written in
an article by Tim Crothers in 2011. This story was nominated for a National Magazine
Award and was then published in a book. The film has received high ratings from internet
review websites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Mira Nairs 27 years in Uganda
enabled her to present Ugandan culture accurately. The characters traditional dress, the
African music in the background and the accent used by the actors brings Ugandan
culture to life for unfamiliar audiences.
The movie revolves around a shy and humble girl, Phiona. Once, while carrying out
her daily duty of selling maize, her familys only source of income, she notices a small
room where children are eating porridge. Her hunger draws her into the room. Katende
(David Oyelowo), who introduces Phiona to Chess, warmly welcomes her. Being from
the poorer areas of the slums, at first, the other students are not welcoming and
discourage her for her unfamiliarity with Chess. However, she gradually practices

playing with the best student in the class and realizes her innate talent in the game. In a
few days, Phiona starts defeating chess players who have been playing longer than she.
Katende notices her potential to become a Grandmaster, the highest rank that can be
achieved in Chess. With the help of Katende and the support from her mother Nakku
Harriet (Lupita Nyongo), Phiona is given the opportunity to compete nationally and
internationally. The intensity is built whenever Phiona plays against older chess players
in the movie.
The storys emotional aspects and hints of comedy grab the audiences attention
throughout the two-hour movie. This underdogs journey is unusual. Happy endings are
not quick. Queen of Katwe portrays the hardships of Phiona and her family goes through
while she pursues her talent in Chess, which is Phionas only way out of poverty. Since
67% of Ugandans are vulnerable to poverty (NewVision), Phiona strives to take this
opportunity and make a change in her and her familys life. Even after achieving victory
nationally, Phiona goes through pain and suffering whereby she loses her home and is
forced to live on the streets. However, chess is Phionas source of happiness. After
Phionas brother, Brian (Martin Kabanza) has an accident and is rushed to the hospital,
the family struggles to cover his health expenses. This gives Phiona even more to worry
about and she loses hope in improving her life through chess. Katende encourages her
and explains life to her through Chess. He says, Never be too quick to surrender your
king. The linkage of chess with life is another aspect that makes Queen of Katwe unique
among other underdog sports movies.
Mira Nair breaks the norm, especially when it comes to womens roles and
marriage within the village of Katwe. Nakku, a single mother, is seen working for her

family without a man providing for her. In many instances, she is blamed for being poor
due to not having a mans support. A friend attempts to persuade her to marry him in
exchange for wealth but she refuses. The people of Katwe mistakenly perceive this as
ego. Mira Nair portrays this trait as self-sufficiency. Nakku is decocted as an empowered
woman in her independent life and control.
The movie is an accurate representation of Phionas life, and culture, as well as life
in a Ugandan slum. In real life, Phiona discovered Chess accidentally as she was going to
sell maize. After learning chess, Phiona beat all boys, which as mentioned before, caught
Katendes attention. The phrases I started playing against girls and boys and "then I
started beating the boys," in the movie were exactly said by Phiona when she was
explaining her story in real-life to Silent Image Documentary in 2011. Furthermore,
Phionas coach, Robert Katende played an important role in her life just as in the movie.
Phiona mentions in the documentary, He teaches me about chess and God. He has
prepared me well for Russia. Every day Coach Robert and I train to make me a better
chess player. When Nakku finds out that Phiona has been playing chess behind her back,
she punishes Phiona by forbidding her to continue playing. Nakkus reluctance is due to
her unfamiliarity with chess and in fear of losing her children to criminals or child
traffickers. However, Katende explains the benefits to Nakku and reassures her. The
locations filmed in the movie, are the real-life locations where Phiona experienced her
journey of life and Chess. As David Oyelowo says in an article in New York Times,
"Being in Uganda, in the church in Katwe, in the slum that the real Phiona Mutesi
emerged from, depicts the challenges they faced and the uniqueness of who they are.
Filming within the actual slum of Katwe enhances the accuracy of situations in Phionas

life, which builds a strong connection with the audience. To add culture relevance within
the movie, Mira Nair cast three Kampala locals who played Phionas older siblings.
However, the only aspect that was not entirely accurate were the conditions of Katwe. In
the movie, Katwe is portrayed less harshly than how it is in real-life. The movie avoids
showing the high murder rate and drug use, which makes Katwe an area with the highest
crime rate in Uganda. Perhaps this was avoided to make it more appropriate for younger
This thrilling movie will keep you biting your nails especially during any match
Phiona encounters. For those interested in Chess or not, this movie is worth watching for
all those who need inspiration in their life. No matter what situation you are in, this
movie shows us that it is always possible to improve ones life through hard work and
determination. So what if you do not succeed on your first try, keep on striving! As
Robert Katende says in the movie, What matters is when you reset the pieces and play a