Film: Queen of Katwe

By: Jo Siedlecka

This Disney film tells the true story of Phiona Mutesa, a young girl from Kampala, Uganda who is now a world chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair, whose work includes Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding, the film was made on location in the sprawling Katwe slum.

In the opening scenes we see Phiona (played by Madina Nalwanga) living with her widowed mother, Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) brothers and sisters in a rickety shack. They have no electricity and water is collected from a stand pipe in the street. None of the kids go to school. They eke out a living selling vegetables in the market. One day Phiona notices Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) working at the local mission with children. He invites her into a room where a group are learning chess. Very soon she is captivated by the game and Robert realises she is a talented player. But she has much to learn.

Like Salaam Bombay or Slumdog Millionaire - this film shows us the sheer awfulness of a place where the well-off middle classes are somehow totally oblivious to the desperate poverty of the people living next door to them. There's a very touching scene where Robert brings a group of slum children to stay overnight at the posh school where they are going to take part in chess tournaments. The children have never seen beds before, and next morning when he looks into the dormitory, their blankets are untouched and they are all curled up on the floor.

This colourful film also shows the energy and community spirit of the people living in Katwe. Many local residents have small parts and there is a terrific soundtrack.

David Oyelowo (who starred in Selma) is charismatic as ever in his portrayal of the kind and dedicated youth leader. Lupita Nyong'o is phenomenal as the Harriet's mother, ferociously protective of her children. And Madina Nalwanga gives a very fine, subtle performance as her character develops through the story.

This is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year.

Ethos Media have produced a number of free resources to download, for use with the film by school, youth or church groups. For more information see:

Share this story