From slum child to chess prodigy

Emily AceSouth Western Times
Queen of Katwe is the inspiring story of teen Phiona Mutesi living in the poverty-stricken slums of rural Uganda and how the game of chess changed her life.
Camera IconQueen of Katwe is the inspiring story of teen Phiona Mutesi living in the poverty-stricken slums of rural Uganda and how the game of chess changed her life.

Queen of Katwe is a triumphant true story about overcoming adversity which sure tugs at the heartstrings.

Madina Nalwanga is excellent in her breakout role as Phiona Mutesi, a teenage girl born and raised in the slum of Katwe in Uganda, who is forced to sell corn on the streets with her siblings instead of going to school to try to make enough money to survive after her dad dies.

Phiona stumbles across a chess club, created by selfless missionary and ex-soccer player Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) for Katwe’s poverty stricken children, naming his group “the pioneers”.

Robert notices the fight in Phiona immediately and with each session he grows more confident in her prodigious talent for the game of chess.

Robert’s mentoring nurtures Phiona’s love for the game, while also teaching her important life skills and lessons – much to the distaste of Phiona’s strong-willed, yet suspicious mother, Harriet (a flawless performance by Lupito Nyong’o).

The journey follows Phiona from an illiterate, chess-playing novice, to excelling beyond her coach’s own skills with the ability to see more than eight moves ahead.

As Phiona ages and her talent grows, her protective mother is enlightened to Phiona’s potential, deciding to let go of her fears and support her daughter in any way she can – even selling a prized garment handed down from her own mother.

While you may mistake this movie as simply being about a game of chess, it is about so much more.

Director Mira Nair delves into the struggles of impoverished families living in the slums of Uganda and highlights the overwhelming class gap between the city kids and those unfortunate enough to be raised in shantytowns.

Stamped with a Disney logo, the film could easily become a cliched underdog tale, but Queen of Katwe is far from it – it is raw, inspiring and eye-opening.

It also indulges in splashes of humour and encapsulates the colourful and spirited African culture. The casting allows African talent to take centre stage and this gives the film a genuine feel.

The credits are definitely worth sticking around for.

This uplifting and moving true story will definitely have you leaving the cinema with a lump in your throat and a joyful tear in the corner of your eye.

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