‘Queen of Katwe': Father David Guffey Looks at the Film — and the Children of Uganda

queen-of-katweDisney’s new film “Queen of Katwe,” in theaters now, shows the gritty reality of life in a Ugandan slum, but does not ask for your pity. Instead, it invites you to be inspired.

“Queen of Katwe” offers an entertaining sports movie (albeit about chess tournaments) that hits all the right story beats about a gifted young woman who, against all odds, rises to greatness. It’s entertaining just on that level.

The film is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by Medina Malwanga), who grew up in a slum with siblings and her widowed mother, played by Lupita N’yong’o. Like her siblings, Phiona passes her days hawking roasted corn on the streets of Kampala, till one day she discovers a Christian center for kids run by Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo.

Katende is a mentor who is concerned for the kids in his sports and chess program. Phiona rises among his other students and then beyond, to regional tournaments. The film shows that Katende has a supportive wife and a strong faith, but does so in an organic way that fits within the story as context and background, rather than as a message or a promotion.

On a personal note, two years ago I visited poor neighborhoods outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and I spent some time around Kampala, Uganda. In that time, I met people who worked hard every day to make a living, who had close bonds with family and a deep faith. I met people who, in spite of poverty, lack of civic resources and miserable living conditions, nevertheless had a capacity for hope, joy and generosity. Faith was part of what made this be so.






Some of the people I met on my trip became my heroes: students hungry for education, mentors gracious in guiding youth, parents sacrificing for their children and communities that celebrate life. “Queen of Katwe” exemplifies the spirit I saw there. Not only that, but the film made me want to be a better person in the world I inhabit.

Note from Social Media Manager Kate O’Hare:

In case you didn’t know, chess players have their own patron, Saint Teresa of Avila!


Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

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Faith in Horror: What Good Can Come Out of Being Scared?

The-Exorcist-William-Peter-BlattyIt’s an irony that some of the most positive portrayals of the Catholic Church — whose major mission is to spread Christ’s Gospel of peace, love and sacrifice — is in the horror genre, especially when the Church is going up against ultimate evil.

I always joke, when Satan and his minions are threatening to sweep over the face of the Earth, Hollywood always goes for a priest.

All of this could be just a case of visual shorthand, since we have the Latin, the outfits, the rituals, etc., that make for good visual storytelling. But it’s also a kind of compliment, even if it’s a backhanded one, in that Hollywood takes our connection to God seriously enough to portray us as the last bastion against supernatural evil. In an entertainment world where true faith is often treated as a superstition or a joke, the power of the Cross against demons still has great appeal for the audience.

Los Angeles’ own Bishop Barron discusses it here …

Of course, not all horror movies have Catholic priests as protagonists, and Catholics enjoy scary movies as much as anyone. So, how should we think about them? How far is too far?

content_tonyFamily Theater Productions’ own Senior Producer, Tony Sands recently took part in a panel discussion sponsored by Bel-Air Presbyterian, a Protestant megachurch in the L.A. area. The wide-ranging discussions cover many aspects of the horror genre and how it relates to faith.

Click here to watch the talk in segments.

But back on the topic of exorcism, here’s an excerpt of what Bishop Barron has to say about the 1973 film version of “The Exorcist” in his video, which is as much about the Catholic priesthood as anything:

The film is meditating on two great truths. First, it shows how the young priest moved, slowly and painfully, from a cramped rationalism to a keen sense of a dimension that transcends our ordinary experience. It demonstrates how he came to appreciate the properly supernatural and to understand how his priesthood relates him precisely to that realm. I believe, by the way, that the persistent popularity of the genre of the exorcism film is largely a function of this clear communication of the reality of the transcendent realm, especially during our time when an ideological secularism holds sway. In our guts, we know that there is something “more,” and stories about demonic possession give that intuition vivid confirmation. Secondly, “The Exorcist” shows that the mission of a priest finds its fullest expression in the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the good of the other. Both priests died in battle, defending a little girl whom they barely knew but who had been entrusted to their care. The very last scene of the film is arresting. As Regan and her mother are pulling away in a car, happily leaving the place where they had endured so much suffering, the girl spots a priest in a Roman collar. She asks the driver to stop, and she runs out, throws her arms around the priest and kisses him. It was her tribute to the men who had saved her.

Like any other movie genre, nobody likes everything. Personally, I don’t enjoy slasher films or overly gory films, preferring to stay with psychological thrillers and, of course, the “Catholic horror” genre, if you will, including “The Omen” movies, “Stigmata,” “The Exorcist” and the like. Everyone should know what he or she can tolerate, and if there’s doubt about the spiritual impact of a movie, either leave it alone or discuss it with a priest or spiritual director.

The argument can be made, as is discussed in the videos, that the glamour of Satan and of evil in general can be overdone in horror films. That is certainly true and must be guarded against. But when you see a priest, pushed to the limits of his mental, physical, psychological and spiritual abilities, standing with nothing but the Cross and his faith against the demonic — well, there’s hardly a better advertisement for the Truth of the Faith than that.

Image: “The Exorcist,” courtesy Warner Bros.

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Holy Halloween! Celebrating the Holiday with Catholic Kids

great-pumpkin-charlie-brownGiven the ghoulish and often gruesome nature that Halloween has adopted in modern culture, many are unaware that Halloween is actually Catholic in origin. The word “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve” and began as a celebration on the evening before All Hallows Day (the Holy Day of Obligation which we now call All Saints Day —“hallow” is an Old English word for “Saint”).

Over the years, as Halloween became commercialized and secularized, its true roots and purpose have been misconstrued and misunderstood (much like Christmas and Easter). However, Halloween really presents a wonderful opportunity to have fun as a family and educate our children about the Church in a way that is interesting to them.

You can start by telling your kids about Halloween’s history as the evening festivities leading up to All Saints Day. Explain that All Saints Day is an occasion when we honor special people who spent their life doing good things for others — these people were so kindhearted and selfless that the Church made them saints.

Take this time to introduce some of the saints to your child. There are books that will help you accomplish this, including “The Children’s Book of Saints” which even preschoolers will enjoy; “Loyola Kids Book of Saints” for older children; and “Catholic Saints for Children,” which can appeal to those as young as 2 or 3, while older kids seem to like it as well.

Encourage your child to pick a particularly interesting saint and use this opportunity to, as a family, ask that saint for prayers. Let your kids know that if they’d like to dress up as a saint for Halloween, you will help them put a costume together. Check out this Pinterest page for options.

Even if your child has a different idea about what the Halloween costume should be, he or she can always dress as a favorite saint for Mass on November 1st.

Perhaps before going out to trick or treat on the 31st, you can ask Saint Nicholas for prayers for your children’s safety or ask Saint Michael the Archangel for protection of the whole family.

In the days and weeks leading up to Halloween, steer clear of the more horrific elements, but embrace all the opportunities for fun together:

Here are a couple of dates to add to your viewing calendar …

Wednesday, October 19th: “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. The classic airs on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/PT, and will be available to watch online here the very next day. The full-length version of the special will re-air on ABC on Friday, 10/28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Or, you can watch it on YouTube:

Sunday, October 23rd: “Peppa Pig: Pumpkin Party” airs for the first time in the U.S. on Nick Jr.. at 7 p.m. ET.

Here’s a look:

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual therapist.

Image: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” courtesy ABC

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

UP Launches New Streaming Service for Faith & Family Fare

growing-up-mcghee-upAs we reported before, one benefit of the growth of streaming services is that faith and family audiences can now screen out a lot of programming that contains inappropriate content — and screen in wholesome, uplifting entertainment — just by subscribing to a targeted service.

Cable network UP is home to reality shows like “Growing Up McGhee,” about a family with sextuplets; and “Bulloch Family Ranch,” about a family that takes in troubled teens; and scripted fare like “Heartland,” set on a family ranch in the foothills of the Rockies.

Now the cablenet has launched UP Faith & Family, described as:

UP Faith & Family is an exclusive subscription video on demand (SVOD) service offering the freshest and most exclusive family and faith-friendly entertainment with an ever-growing library of over 500 quality dramas, family comedies, exclusive UP original series, movies, animated features and more. With just one click, your family can enjoy the freedom to watch their all-time favorites instantly anytime and anywhere with fresh new titles added every month. Now any room can be your family room. UP Faith & Family subscribers get instant access to all of this great content on their TV, computer and mobile devices for just $4.99 per month with no contract or obligation. UP Faith & Family can be added through Amazon Prime, Comcast Xfinity, Dish or upfaithandfamily.com.

I fired off some email questions to Greg Madsen, the vice-president, content distribution and marketing for UP TV and ASPiRE, and managing director for UP Faith & Family. Have a look (lightly edited for grammar and AP style):

What was the inspiration for creating this new SVOD service?

Our linear network, UP, was launched over 12 years ago as Gospel Music Channel. As it became UP and evolved to be more of a broad network focused on stories about family targeted to adults, we knew there was still demand and a large audience for Christian content as well as family-friendly titles. At the same time, the video industry has evolved with customers consuming content on their schedule and across devices. Thus we launched UPFF as a streaming service to super-serve the faith and/or family focused consumer.

What are your parameters for considering content to be included in the service (such as language, sexual content, violence, etc.)?

Every piece of content offered by UPFF is screened internally to make sure it meets our strict guidelines regarding language, sexual content, and violence, and that the basic themes of each piece of content support our tenets of family- and faith-friendliness. Much of our content comes from producers who share this philosophy so it is already a perfect fit. Some content has very positive themes and fits our programming philosophy, but may have a little bit of language or violence etc., so we edit it accordingly.

How do you define “faith-friendly” — just content featuring people of faith or clergy, or content that addresses larger Christian themes?

Really all of the above and then some. Some of our content does in fact feature pastors or clergy, other titles do not feature clergy, but have overarching Christian themes. Some of our content is not overtly Christian or religious at all, but is positive, uplifting, family-friendly content. It is UP Faith & Family after all!

What sets your service apart from similar ones?

The main differentiator is our UP original content. Hit series like Bringing Up Bates, Growing up McGee, Bulloch Family Ranch and many, many feature films. They originally premiered on UP linear, and we made the decision not to license them to any other SVOD services for streaming, so UPFF is the only SVOD service to stream them. We also learned from our years of programing GMC/UP, that content can’t just be faith affirming or family-friendly, it needs to be entertaining and contemporary, too. Our content acquisition team has done a great job of curating content for UPFF that is very high quality and entertaining, the vast majority of which is less than 10 years old. UPFF is offered by Amazon, Comcast Xfinity, Dish, Google Fiber and directly at Upfaithandfamily.com.  An UPFF subscription is just $4.99 per month or is included with some existing packages.

What do you think the future is for faith-friendly entertainment — will it be a niche or will mainstream producers and networks return to showcasing it?

I think the future is bright. In the last five or 10 years there have been a number of high-profile, big-budget feature films, and broadcast and cable films and series, from mainstream producers, that have performed very well. As these type of projects continue to deliver audiences and revenue the studios will continue to produce them. At the same time, there are new outlets for content every day (like UPFF!) which should also encourage more and more faith-friendly content to be produced.

The faith and family audience is huge, with immense power of the pocketbook — so why is so little content today friendly to Christianity or suitable for the whole family?

This is a tough one to answer. We agree, and our research shows there is a huge faith- and family-focused audience with immense buying power. I think part of it may be that some advertisers and large advertising agencies have not fully embraced the faith audience or are not sure how to market to this audience. I think there is also a misconception that family-friendly or faith-friendly is code for bland or boring programming. We know this is not the case, but we need to continue to produce and promote really entertaining, high-quality Christian and family content and promote it to help break this stereotype.

What is UP’s philosophy on what constitutes the family and faith-friendly content it produces and shows?

UP, the linear channel, is focused on family and producing terrific series like Bringing Up Bates, Growing Up McGhees, and the recently announced scripted family dramedy Date My Dad. As you’ll see from each of these series, UP’s philosophy is to build a truly entertaining show for adults that they actually want to share and enjoy with the entire family.

In the end, the audience always decides what gets made and what doesn’t. If this type of programming, and services like this, succeed, there’ll be more of them. If they don’t, there won’t be.

Viewers, the next move is yours.

Image: “Bringing Up McGhee,” Courtesy UP

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Introducing Faith and Prayer to Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers


As every parent of an infant knows, you start out in survival mode, as you desperately try to meet the needs of a tiny new being while living with very little sleep and, frankly, a lot of anxiety. There are a handful of things that got me through that rough time as a new mom: support from family and friends, the knowledge that this particularly difficult period would not last forever, deep gratitude for the gift of a healthy child — two boys, in my case — and prayer.

Once my babies were on a good schedule and sleeping through the night — and my sanity resurfaced — I soon found myself thinking about their more long-term needs. As adults, we know that life can be tough and that our children will inevitably face challenges. Experience has taught me that a deep sense of gratitude for my blessings — especially in the midst of struggles — is essential to living a happy, healthy life. With that in mind, I decided that incorporating prayer into my kids’ daily routine would be a priority.

Prayer is many things, but for me, it is synonymous with gratitude. As a young girl, I remember my mother explaining that as Catholics, we begin our prayers with the Sign of the Cross, and then we praise God for His greatness and thank Him for the many gifts He’s blessed us with, before launching into our various petitions.

When praying with very young children, this practice makes perfect sense. Every day, they are learning about the world around them, and they are in awe of so much. Things that we routinely take for granted are exciting and amazing to them – from the squirrels in the trees and the trees themselves, to the sun in the sky and pebbles on the beach, not to mention firetrucks and their favorite toys, and zoo animals, as well as all their little accomplishments, like eating with a spoon, climbing to the top of the play structure – the list goes on and on. Letting them know that they have God to thank for all of these wonderful things is such a natural way to introduce prayer to babies and toddlers.

Even before they have language, you can pray with them. Start by thanking God out loud for anything that interests them. If they are into dogs, you can point to a dog in a book or a dog you see on your walk and say “We love dogs, thank you, God, for dogs.” If they love cars and firetrucks, you can use a moment of playtime with cars to say “We have so much fun with cars, thank you, God, for cars.” When a firetruck blares its way down the street, join the celebration by thanking God for cool firetrucks.

Use opportunities like cuddle time to thank God out loud for the child’s beautiful face with two eyes to see the beauty He’s created, two arms to one day give hugs and offer comfort to those who need it, and so on. Babies and young toddlers may not have the words to express themselves but they understand much of what we’re saying and modeling for them long before they’re able to tell us.

From there, it is very easy to make the progression to thanking God for the food we eat at dinnertime, and to spend a few minutes at bedtime naming all the things in our day that we feel gratitude for. I’ve found that there’s no harm in also reciting longer, more traditional prayers at specific times of day.

When my babies first began sleeping in their cribs, I started saying A Children’s Bedtime Prayer and The Guardian Angel Prayer every night before turning off the lights.

Here’s my version of the Bedtime Prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep.

Thy love stay with me through the night,

And wake me with the morning light.

I ask this not for myself alone,

but for thy children–every one.

And this is the famous Guardian Angel Prayer:

Angel of God, my guardian dear,

To whom God’s love commits me here,

Ever this day, be at my side,

To light and guard,

Rule and guide.

At two-and-a-half, they still don’t say the words along with me, but they do say “AMEN!” at the end. I know that eventually, saying prayers like these at bedtime will be a regular part of their routine because it’s what they’re used to.

This is already clear in the mornings when we are in the car on our way to a class or a playdate, and I ask them “Should we say some prayers?” They almost always respond “Yes” and then repeat each simple sentence that I say aloud. This is the time of day that we not only thank God for His blessings – including a good night’s sleep – but add requests like “Please give daddy a good day at work,” or “Please watch over us at the park today,” and “Help us to be kind to everyone we meet.”

When one of my kids skins his knee or falls and bumps his head —which happens a lot— I ask God to please make them feel better. When another child gets hurt, we ask God to please help that child heal.

I know that my boys are still too young to fully grasp what God or prayer is. But I also know that I’m laying the foundation for a life of faith right now. I want them to have that gift. There is so much more room for joy in life when we are capable of remaining grateful in the face of adversity and are able to put our anxiety and fear in the hands of God.

So here are a few other ways to incorporate prayer into your young child’s world…

Songs: Young children love to sing. The repetition of song helps them to acquire language and belting one out is so much fun for them. You can sing simple words of prayer to the tune of well-known classics like “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Happy Birthday” – if you repeat them often enough, your toddlers will catch on and join in.

Dolls, Puppets and Stuffed Toys: Therapists have long used Play Therapy as a means of communicating with and understanding children. In Play Therapy, toys act as a child’s words and the way they play with those toys – such as dolls, puppets, stuffed animals or action figures – is their language. But it’s also a great way for an adult to explain a complicated situation, like a loved one who is sick or a parent who has to go away on a long trip.

Books: Every child development expert says it’s never too early to start reading to your kids, so why not sneak in a few books that will teach them about faith. These are my recommendations:

Thank You, God, for Loving Me and Thank You, God, for Blessing Me by Max Lucado

Catholic Baby’s First Prayers

My First Catholic Book of Prayers and Graces

Baby’s First Book of Prayers

I Talk to God About How I Feel by Stormie Omartian

Lift The Flap Bible

As a bonus, here’s a video to get kids started on Christ’s own prayer:

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual therapist.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

ABC’s ‘Speechless': A Bold Comedy Portrays a Quirky Family With a Special-Needs Teen

speechless-abc-tv-series-key-art-logo-740x416Last night, ABC premiered a new comedy called “Speechless,” and it did something that no network comedy has done for me in years — it made me laugh. Out loud. Repeatedly.

It was also good — both as comedy and as a family comedy, and that’s saying something, coming from the network that brought us “The Real O’Neals.”

Here’s how ABC describes it:

Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) is a mom on a mission who will do anything for her husband Jimmy, her kids Ray, Dylan, and JJ, her eldest son with cerebral palsy. As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and searches for just the right person to give JJ his “voice.”

Speechless stars Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, John Ross Bowie as Jimmy DiMeo, Mason Cook as Ray DiMeo, Micah Fowler as JJ DiMeo, Kyla Kennedy as Dylan DiMeo and Cedric Yarbrough as Kenneth.

Writing for Aleteia, the Frech family — which includes Catholic blogger mom Rebecca, and daughter Ella, who uses a wheelchair — said:

The character of J.J. DeMeo in Speechless isn’t a person to be pitied, or a burden on his family, or a prop in the background. He’s an important part of his family. He’s funny, smart, and resourceful. The fact that he uses a chair and can’t talk aren’t as important to his character as his personality is.

J.J. isn’t the only one that had us cheering. His mom, Maya, is exactly like every special needs mom we’ve ever met. They’re strong, bossy, pushy, sarcastic, and they love their families intensely. These moms demand that the world accept their children for the amazing people that they are, and that their children never have to apologize for what everyone else might see as their shortcomings. Maya wasn’t portrayed as some sort of heroic saintly super-mom, but flawed and too often riding rough over the world around her, including her other children, in order to get J.J. what is in his best interest. Her character was real, and we liked her all the more for it.

Earlier, 11-year-old Ella Frech had a few things to say to Hollywood about its portrayal of people with various disabilities:

Me Before You comes out tomorrow. I’ve never read the book, but my mom told me about it and I read the reviews online. It’s the story of a guy who gets in an accident, and has a spinal cord injury, and has to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. A guy you think should want to die because he has to live a life that looks like mine.

Well, what’s wrong with a life that looks like mine?

My mom says this isn’t the first movie where a handicapped person had to die for being paralyzed. There was one called Million Dollar Baby where a woman is a quad and bravely chooses death instead of an imperfect life.

So I’m asking you again, what’s wrong with my life? Why do you think I should want to die?

You sit there with your able bodies, and look at people in chairs and think you feel pity for our sad little lives, but the truth is you’re afraid. You don’t want to imagine that you might be one of us one day. You think you can be perfect, and think you’d rather die than have parts that don’t work right.

I think that’s sad.

“Speechless” has also hired a disabled actor to play the part of JJ. It probably costs more in terms of production efficiency, but it gives the series real authenticity (and probably teaches the other actors and writers a lot about the reality of the situation).

Said executive producer Scott Silveri, in Variety:

“For me, it was never a question,” show creator Scott Silveri says about casting Fowler. “God bless the studio and the network for not questioning that. I had geared up for a big fight, but the fight never came. There wasn’t the pushback I expected.”

Silveri — who based “Speechless” loosely off of his own experience growing up with an older brother with a disability — says he’s been wanting to do a show like “Speechless” for nearly 20 years, and while he happened to be developing something on his own, he found out ABC was looking for a show about a family with a special needs child.

“I expected to be some trailblazing vanguard like ‘It’s time!’ and I never got to do my speech,” Silveri says with a laugh.

Here are a few things I loved about “Speechless” (in no particular order):

  • The dad is awesome. He’s not a typical sitcom dad, which is to say, he’s sharp and funny and loving.
  • Minnie Driver gets to use her own British accent. It’s not explained; it doesn’t need to be.
  • JJ’s siblings have the hard job of holding their own in a family where all the energy bends toward their brother. They’re tough and fun and have strong lives of their own.
  • All things P.C. get hilariously skewered at JJ’s new school, which exemplifies a lot of the worst of the fuzzy-headedness and misguided “sensitivity” infecting much of modern education.
  • JJ gets a lot of the best lines, even if somebody else is voicing them.

As for faith, there isn’t any mentioned — other than when the father comments that the new family home’s abundance of cellphone bars will allow him to “call God” — but neither is it denigrated. Obviously, we’d love it if the family turned out to be Catholic, but I’m not holding my breath. However, it’s not a dealbreaker.

While the rough-edged DeMeos aren’t exactly the Waltons, they’re real and relatable. Other than defending JJ’s human dignity, the show doesn’t appear, so far, to have any agendas, progressive or otherwise.

Click here to watch the first episode, if you missed it. Tune in to subsequent episodes Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. It’s also available on ABC’s WebsiteHulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Image: Courtesy ABC

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.