Review: QUEEN OF KATWE

Lupita Nyong'o and Madina Nalwanga star in the triumphant true story QUEEN OF KATWE, directed by Mira Nair.

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B+

Slowly but surely, changes are being made to create and produce more films that tell the real life stories of success from unexpected places around the world. Biopic films may not appeal to all fans of cinema, but some are especially engaging when the script is good and the performance by the cast is outstanding as they provide insight to the real life individuals they portray. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures presents Queen of Katwe, the biographical sports drama directed by Mira Nair from a screenplay by William Wheeler, based on The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster authored by Tim Crothers.

The film is about Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess prodigy who becomes a Woman Candidate Master. Mutesi is a young lady from the slums of Katwe in Kampala and after hundreds of girls were auditioned for the lead role, Madina Nalwanga was selected and shines in the role of Phiona. Starring David Oyelowo (Selma) as Robert Katende and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as Phiona’s mother Harriet, this is a highly recommended film for families and most especially for pre-teen and teen students. This story is fascinating indeed, but these actors provide a convincing performance that shows no matter what the challenge is, many things can be achieved to alter the course of someone’s life.

Phiona sells maize in the street to help support her mother Harriet (Nyong’o), an older sister, Night (Taryn Kyaze), brother, Brian (Martin Kabanza) and a baby brother. There are many scenes of scarce sales, little money to pay rent, an eviction and other challenges. When Phiona and Brian drop by a local sports ministry, they discover a world unknown to them. The kind community leader, Robert Katende (Oyelowo) invites them in, feeds them and teaches them the art of chess, as it is something he mastered at a young age. To his surprise, as Phiona starts to beat him at chess, he knows her talent is special. His dedication to the children is incredible and he does whatever he can to find the way to highlight their talent. He works tirelessly to make things happen when so many doors seemed to be closed. Phiona has the potential to escape living as a street vendor and in the slums. He cannot overlook that and this film captures how they journey to fame.

As the audience views this film, they will have a sense of what this family goes through working outdoors in the streets of Uganda. It does not appear the reality has been softened over in this Disney film and there are indeed some realistic scenes captured by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave).

Director Mira Nair attended the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month to present the PG rated film, and now after a limited release, Queen of Katwe hits theaters worldwide on September 30th.

Source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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