Film Noire: The Queen of Katwe

Monday, October 24, 2016




This month cinema screens were resplendent with black stars. Nate Parker, Aja Naomi King and  Gabrielle Union among others were ablaze in The Birth of a Nation. (Review of The Birth coming soon!) Lupita Nyongo and David Olewoyo starred alongside Mandina Nalwanga in the refreshing Queen of Katwe.  The movie, which was filmed in South Africa and directed as well as written by Indian film-maker Mira Nair of Mississippi Masala and Monsoon Wedding fame, is a heart warming chronicle of the real life story of Ugandan chess prodigy. Phiona Mutesi. Phiona who is raised by a single mother, played by Lupita, in a Ugandan slum (Katwe) comes to realise the potential she possesses and that life holds more possibility than her environment may suggest. For Phiona, chess opens the portal to such possibility.

   There are several reasons why I like this cinematic depiction apart from the obvious one that it's good to see a  universally uplifting story. For starters,  the film  highlights that there are arenas outside of entertainment and sports in which people of African descent excel. Furthermore, it is refreshing to see a movie in which black people are their own heroes. Making it even better is the fact that this is told without the paternalistic tone that often permeates Hollywood movies about African people. Good writing, directing and acting convey the nuanced lives of people trying to transcend the harsh circumstances around them.  Scene by scene, it is evident that much care and thought was invested into seeing that this film reflected dignity. I can't say that I'm surprised. The so called big names close to the project:  Nair, Nyongo and Olewoyo have built their careers on contributing to a dignified representation of African people/people of colour on screen. My last reason for adoring this film, is that it affirms the African regard for  community. Yes, Phiona is a brilliant chess player but she doesn't succeed by herself. She succeeds largely in part due to her coach/ teacher (played by Olewoyo) who recognises her gift and persistently nurtures it. She succeeds also because she has a strict but loving mother who instills the value that success is most meaningful when we take others along with us. Phiona succeeds because she has a community cheering her on. 

I hope that this description  hasn't given away too much but has piqued your interest in "The Queen of Katwe"Do share your thoughts below if you have seen it. 

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