‘Queen of Katwe’ is inspiring film about young chess champion

Madina Nalwanga is Phiona Mutesi in "Queen of Katwe."
Madina Nalwanga is Phiona Mutesi in "Queen of Katwe." Walt Disney Pictures

What It's About: Inspiring and empowering, this true story of Phiona Mutesi, who rose from poverty to become a chess champion and country hero, has been adapted into a poignant movie tailor-made for mothers and daughters.

Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) was a poor 10-year-old selling corn on the streets of Kampala, Uganda, when a kind and patient missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) took her under his wing, teaching her and other disadvantaged youth chess. He sees tremendous potential in her, and guides her to achieve.

As she matures, the reserved girl develops skills and builds on her natural aptitude to triumph in stressful competitions. Soon, she is in national and international circles.

Her family struggles are enormous, but her tough mother (Lupita Nyong'o) finally understands what is at stake, and Phiona can indeed surmount hardship to realize her dreams.

This is the kind of movie you want to stand up and cheer afterwards, for it sends a strong message to women everywhere: Dream big and never, ever give up.

Performances: In her remarkable screen debut, Madina Nalwanga conveys Phiona's challenges as an illiterate kid of the slums trying to overcome those setbacks.

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o is a strong-willed life force as Harriet, a mother of four just trying to get by, never sacrificing her principles.

David Oyelowo is a strong and likable presence as the mentor who shapes and influences the poor young kids in his area.

The performances are genuine, aided by director Mira Nair's assured direction. She provides a nice layer of humanity that is relatable, no matter what culture.

What Works: Nair ("Mississippi Masala") has focused on an important message — that for Phiona to succeed, everyone had to have a hand in it, offering encouragement and support. Yes, it does take a village. And we are all better when that happens.

"Queen of Katwe" is a gritty, honest depiction of an intriguing story. The source material is an ESPN magazine article by Tim Crothers.

You'll be happy you now know about her, too.

“Queen of Katwe”


Director: Mira Nair

Starring: David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga

Rated: PG for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material

Length: 2:04