The Pioneers of Uganda

Queen of Katwe

queen_of_katwe

Director: Mira Nair

Cast: David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza

Indian director Mira Nair has produced a sterling body of diverse films from the critically acclaimed Monsoon Wedding to The Reluctant Fundamentalist to the gorgeous period drama Vanity Fair featuring Reese Witherspoon as the social climbing Becky Sharp.

Now Nair teams up with the beautiful Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) and British actor David Oyelowo in the Ugandan chess drama, Queen of Katwe. With a distribution deal by Disney, Nair has secured the way for Queen of Katwe to get a prolific cinematic release and a much wider audience appeal.

Queen of Katwe is a vibrant story of a young poverty-stricken girl Phiona Mutesi who is desperate to escape the dire circumstances of her neighbourhood and soon with the assistance of Robert Katende wonderfully played by Oyelowo, discovers an aptitude for chess, a strategic game traditionally played by young boys and men. Phiona, superbly played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, has to battle teasing from the boys as well as her domineering mother Harriet Nakku wonderfully played by Nyong’o who is desperate to try and lift her family out of poverty.

What Mira Nair does do is so perceptively is not dwell on the circumstances of poverty but on the hope that anyone can lift themselves out of a poverty stricken situation by applying their mind to their own talents and not let poverty trap them in a continuous cycle. This is exactly what the young and vivacious heroine Phiona does as she soon gains considerable recognition in the Ugandan and African chess world as she soon masters the strategic game and becomes a Ugandan chess champion, despite the odds.

As the narrative moves from the smart private schools of Kampala to the icy streets of a Russian city and back to the shores of Lake Victoria, Queen of Katwe is a heart-warming African story about what can be accomplished when one realizes ones talent and practices religiously to succeed.

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What makes Queen of Katwe so refreshing is that it’s a vibrant 21st century story of an African girl who becomes a champion in contemporary Uganda without any references to violence, dictatorial history or colonial repression, so different from such films as The Last King of Scotland. Mira Nair paints contemporary East Africa as a vibrant entrepreneurial area where the possibilities are endless.

British star David Oyelowo (Jack Reacher, The Paperboy) should get an Oscar nomination for his superb performance as Robert Katende who gives up a stable job in the Ugandan government to ensure that the pioneers succeed. The pioneers are his chess club which aims to alleviate poverty through social upliftment and sport, which is exactly what happens to the courageous and intelligent Phiona.

Queen of Katwe is based on an ESPN article by Tim Crothers and is highly recommended viewing. Intelligently acted by the three main leads and wonderfully directed by Mira Nair, this is an uplifting tale of human achievement.

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