Everybody loves an underdog story. I don’t mean the cartoon Underdog. I mean a real, coming from nowhere, succeeding in the face of extreme adversity, kind of story. There is something about it that reinforces the notion that even when we are at our darkest point, there should be some light. If someone else can overcome the extreme disadvantage they started with, maybe I can do that too.
It’s even better when it happens to be true, as it is with Queen of Katwe.
“Queen of Katwe” is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”) from a screenplay by William Wheeler (“The Hoax”) based on the book by Tim Crothers, “Queen of Katwe” is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher (“The Darjeeling Limited”) and John Carls (“Where the Wild Things Are”) with Will Weiske and Troy Buder serving as executive producers. The film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.
For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende (Oyelowo), a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.
When I first sat down to watch Queen of Katwe I had little information about the film as only tidbits had been released. Going in, all that I knew was this was a movie about Uganda and chess … two things that I knew absolutely nothing about. Then the story unfolded. As I left the theater I was crying but I felt embraced and inspired.
5 Things I Took Away from Queen of Katwe:
1) FIGHT. No matter our position, it is important to continue to fight, to believe in ourselves, to dream, and to achieve.
~ Your life is what you make of it.
2) It is important to focus on and be thankful for what we have. This film introduced me to a level of poverty and living that I had never seen before. There are days when I feel as though I want … I NEED … so much more. I wake up every day with the basic necessities and much, much more. Not everyone is able to say the same.
~ Do not be quick to tip your King. Never surrender.
3) Losing doesn’t mean we fail. Growing up my mom, like so many others, told me that when we fall, we get up, brush ourselves off, and try again. Life is like a game of chess. It takes patience, stamina, and perseverance.
~ What matters is that you rest the pieces and play the game … Losing teaches you to play better.
4) Our parent(s) are our biggest fans. It may not seem like it at the time but our parent(s) have our best interest, our success, our future in mind at all times. I didn’t understand this when I was growing up; I don’t think most of us do. Now that I am a parent, I can’t apologize to my mom enough. Those nights when she wouldn’t let me go to a party just for the sake of going, get in the car with an inexperienced driver, and the constant nagging about my homework and studying. I understand it all now but not then. She was my biggest advocate then and she still is now.
~ Your children are blessed because they have a mother who never gave up on them.
5) Actively search for your happiness. I am a college graduate, my own boss, happily married, proud mother, community volunteer … and so much more BUT there are days, many of them, when I still don’t know what I want in life and I can’t quite find my place. My husband always tells me to look for my happiness. That all he wants for me is to be happy. I think that is what we all want … to be happy, to find our place. Never stop searching, moving forward, being you.
~ Sometimes the place that you are used to is not where you belong.
These are just a few of my take-aways from the film but there is so much more. If you need a little inspiration in your life, and who doesn’t, take your family to see Queen of Katwe.
QUEEN OF KATWE OPENS IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016
“The small one can become the big one.”
CONNECT WITH QUEEN OF KATWE
*I was sent on an all expenses paid trip to LA courtesy of Disney. All opinions are my own. Photos and video courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.