Every time a sport makes me a little weepy, I can hear Tom Hanks saying “There’s no crying in baseball!” I heard it repeatedly in my head while watching the inspiring tale, Queen of Katwe.
Adapted from the book, The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers, director Mira Nair successfully brings to life the beautiful and emotional journey of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her rise to becoming a champion chess player. Living in the Ugandan slums, Phiona sells maize with her mother and brother, in order to survive. When she goes in search of her brother one day, she wanders into a chess classroom of sorts, and becomes enveloped by the game. Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), the youth minister/chess teacher, sees a skill in Phiona and takes her and her brother under his wing to teach them about the world of tournament chess. Like most sports, the cost to play is not cheap, and Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) initially rejects the thought of her children wasting time on chess, instead of making money. Eventually, she not only agrees to having them play, but makes sacrifices of the only things she has to offer- a family heirloom. As time goes on, Phiona grows beyond her little village, and is stuck in between a two worlds- the one where she lives in poverty, and the one where she is revered and treated to trips, foods, and rewards.
The film is both gorgeous and tragic with Nair taking great care to honor the culture and vividness of Uganda, while also not hiding the poverty that the village and it’s people face. The actors truly played homage to their real life counter-parts, and you can tell there is a respect for them, especially in the end credits.
In the Queen of Katwe, all the pieces just fall into place, and create a gorgeous story of family, identity, and triumph. It’s one you won’t want to miss watching with the whole family.