In my free time, I often browse Netflix for atypical movies and documentaries. Recently, the film Queen of Katwe quickly caught my eye. As the clustered slums of Katwe near Kampala, Uganda unfolded before me, I braced myself for a tear jerker. Over the next two hours, the film grabbed my attention and tested my emotional strength.
It was disheartening to watch the plight of the poor families living in the slums, where young children walked barefoot in the scorching heat, carrying maize in large baskets on their heads to sell it in the market, so their families could have their daily meal. Director Mira Nair's deft handling of the inherently inspiring biography took the story to a whole new level.
Phiona Mutesi, the protege of the film, is a ten-year-old villager who has to leave school in order to take care of her siblings and to assist her mother Nakku Harriet (acted by Lupita Nyong'o) at the market. One day, Mutesi follows her younger brother Benjamin in search of a meal to stumble upon a schoolhouse filled with young boys, their eyes glued to black and white pieces unfamiliar to her. Mutesi's curiosity overcomes her initial hesitation, while her courage thwarts ridiculing young boys. Her naive demeanor combined with an unbridled passion for the strategic game quickly catches the eyes of coach Robert Katende (acted by David Oyelowo), who subsequently begins to train Mutesi ardently.
A fast learner, Mutesi continues to progress rapidly, winning local competitions, typically won by boys. Her life soars to new heights as she becomes the first female to represent Uganda at the International Children's Chess Tournament in Sudan. Mutesi relishes her first flight, stay in hotels and returns home a heroine. When her home is devastated by floods and the family loses all its possessions, the motivation from coach Katende combined with Mutesi and her mother's sheer willpower gives the family renewed hope and strength. Ultimately, Mutesi's successes lead her to eventually buy a house for her mother.
This 2016 Walt Disney production expanded beyond the typical "happily ever afters" and "prince charmings" to reveal the common realities faced by peoples worldwide. I was truly inspired by how despite the adversity Mutesi faced, she made the impossible become possible. While the message is cliché, even the slightest encounter changes a life.
Nair's take on Tim Crothers' enduring novel reinforced the power of perseverance & humanity in my mind. It is uplifting in its revelation of true character of humans in many forms - from Mutesi's mother, who is willing to take a chance on the coach's words, laying aside her fears so that her child can have a future that no one has heard of in their town; a coach who ignores his own family's needs and his future career in order to serve the children of his community, to the fierce strength of a little girl, who juggles her family commitments with great sincerity while pursuing her dreams. Queen of Katwe will reign supreme in my list of "must watch" movies.