Disney’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