'Queen of Katwe' star David Oyelowo calls the film a 'life-affirming African story'

'Katwe' stars Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who overcame obstacles to become a chess champion. It co-stars Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo.

Edward Echwalu/Disney/P
'Queen of Katwe' stars Madina Nalwanga (r.) and David Oyelowo (l.).

Chess may not be the most visual of sports to watch in a film, but the true story of an impoverished Ugandan girl overcoming obstacles to become a chess champion transcends the game, according to the cast of "Queen of Katwe."

The Walt Disney Co film, which is now in theaters, is a "life-affirming African story," star David Oyelowo told Reuters.

"As someone of African descent, we don't see enough of that, I believe, in cinema, in the press as well, so I'm very proud to see a story like this made by Disney as well," Oyelowo added.

"Queen of Katwe" follows the story of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl with no education being raised by her single mother and siblings in Katwe, an impoverished district of the capital, Kampala.

"I'm just a person from nowhere and now I'm coming to [the Toronto Film Festival]. I can't believe it. It's just exciting," Mutesi said as she attended the premiere of the film in Toronto.

In the movie, Phiona is introduced to chess through charity worker Robert Katende, played by Oyelowo, who encourages Katwe uneducated children to play the strategy game, likening it to their inherent survival instincts learned in the slums.

As Phiona starts to beat all her challengers, Katende takes her and the Katwe children to compete in tournaments with players from wealthier backgrounds and education. The young girl often doubts her abilities, but her coach keeps guiding her to believe in herself.

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Phiona's fiercely protective and indefatigable mother, Harriet, said that while she was not yet a mother, she learned about the selflessness of motherhood.

"It's almost like your heart is dislocated and running around and just feeling the fear, inhabiting the fear of a mother letting her chicks out every day to survive," she said.

Director Mira Nair said she had lived in Kampala for 27 years and brought her own experience of the city and culture to the film.

Nair said she wanted to portray "the country from within, feeling the dignity and the complete joy even during the best of struggles."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.