FlixChatter Review: Queen of Katwe (2016)

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When I first saw the trailer, I was so moved by it that I actually teared up. Well, the film proved to live up to its preview, it’s the kind of feel-good, inspiring film that will make you want to get up and cheer.

The story follows its protagonist Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), a young girl growing up in the slums of Uganda called Katwe, hence the name. She’s shown helping her single mother do house chores and sells food, that is until one fateful day when she’s introduced to the game of chess. It turns out she’s naturally gifted in the game, and under the tutelage and encouragement of Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary with Sports Outreach Institute who organized the chess games with the kids from the slums.

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Director Mira Nair collaborated again with the writer of The Reluctant Fundamentalist William Wheeler, which peppered the script with humor as well as poignant drama. It’s perhaps one of the most diverse Disney film ever featuring mostly people of color (in fact the White actors barely got any speaking roles) The kids in the chess games are apparently comprised a mixture of South African and Ugandan youth, and they’re simply adorable! The interactions between Phiona and the other kids are funny and heartwarming, they definitely adds so much charm to the film.

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The film also didn’t shy away from showing the harsh life conditions that Phiona’s mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) and her baby brother had to go through, including a flood that washed away their makeshift home. This film admirably highlights the strength of women, especially in Nakku who endured so much but remained principled and refused to take shortcuts to an easy life. The touching mother/daughter story makes this film so much more than about an unlikely chess champion.

In the end Phiona prevailed against all odds, and became Woman Candidate Master after her extraordinary performances at World Chess Olympiads. As with many based-on-a-true-story films, it’s bound to be predictable and even formulaic, but yet there’s so much heart in the story to overcome it.

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Nalwanga had never acted before and it shows at times, but she’s got screen presence and natural charm. Having two of the best actors working today, Oyelowo and Nyong’o, their excellent performances certainly elevated the film. Mira Nair certainly has a gift for storytelling, as I was completely engrossed in the film despite its rather long running time. All the more proof that we need more women filmmakers telling stories about women. I also love the vibrant color of the film and the fact that it’s filmed on location in Uganda, it certainly makes the film feels authentic. Oh, and you’ve got to wait for the end credit sequence, it will definitely make your eyes swell up and your heart soars.

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Have you seen ‘Queen of Katwe’? Well what did you think?

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14 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Queen of Katwe (2016)

    1. Why thank you Lee! Yes, it’s like RUDY but w/ chess, and Phiona certainly had a ton of hurdles to overcome to even be able to represent Uganda, let alone winning the championship!

    1. Y’know, it pains me that few people went to see it and they simply aren’t interested in the story. But I think they’d be pleasantly surprised by it. The direction and performances are wonderful, I definitely could see Lupita Nyong’O getting another nod in Best Supporting Actress, she’s THAT good.

  1. I am very intrigued by this movie for sure, I am always for a feel good story! What I see with this is Disney focusing on themes it doesn’t usually centre on, such as poverty and racism, and using them to base it on an inspiring story. This alone makes the movie appeal to me as something different. Also, from the trailer it looks beautifully shot!

    1. It’s a feel-good story w/ substance! It’s not so much about racism but more about poverty and underprivileged. It actually has a feminist theme in it as well, esp. in regards to Phiona’s mother being such an independent, principled woman. It is indeed beautifully-shot, I hope you do take the time to see this one.

      1. The only hint of racism I get from the trailer is the scene of the young lad wiping his hand after shaking hands… My only meaning behind that comment. But yes it certainly looks like it has substantial substance to keep the feel good theme going. Hopefully it plays in cinemas near me!

        1. Ah I must’ve missed that from the trailer. Well, I think the film touched upon that a bit but not too much. I do love how it highlights strong women, always a great thing in my book! This is a Disney film so hopefully it’ll get some decent release internationally. It seems they don’t spend much on promotion though, as I talked to some ppl who go to film screenings a lot haven’t even heard of it 😦

          1. I would’ve thought it would get a wide release, over here in New Zealand though it can be hit or miss as I suppose it isn’t the biggest market! I will post a review and let you know should I catch it 🙂

            1. Ah you’re in NZ, I thought you’re in the UK. Well I sure hope you do get it at some point. Yes be sure to let me know what you think once you see this. Cheers!

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