Behind the Queen of Katwe

Underdog: “A person or group of people with less power, money, etc. than the rest of society” | The Cambridge Dictionary

Photo credit: Queen of Katwe
Photo credit: Queen of Katwe

A term in use since 1887 (according to Wikipedia, so don’t hold me to it), it remains a firm favourite in 2016. Why is it? Possibly because every single day, individuals – great and ‘ordinary’ are faced with numerous challenges. And as an ordinary somebody myself, it provides hope that your current existence does not have to be a waste. Everyone has something of value to offer and is entitled to do so.

As Tendo Nagenda, Executive VP of production at Disney put it, “It is my belief that genius is in all young people. Every young person is gifted – the only question is will they discover that gift, and once discovered, will that gift be nurtured by mentors, parents, teachers, caregivers?” He is also the man behind the development of the 2016 Disney anomaly, ‘Queen of Katwe’.

The Plot

‘Queen of Katwe’ follows the life of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl living in Katwe, the largest slum in Kampala, Uganda. She stumbles upon the game chess and thanks to her coach, Robert Katende, develops into an unexpected world champ. Her story was originally captured by Tim Crother in an article for ESPN Magazine which he developed into a book and now, has taken to the big screen thanks to Disney. It’s definitely a “Look at God” movie that will leave you incredibly inspired.

Photo credit: ESPN Magazine
Photo credit: ESPN Magazine

The film resonated so deeply with me for a number of reasons:

  1. It struck me how Disney funded a film based on the lives of real, young Africans who excelled to beat the odds against them and did it for themselves
  2. It is an African film shot on African soil with African creators in front & behind the camera sharing an African story with the world. I am a strong advocate of Africans telling their own story & creating their own narrative without waiting on someone else.
  3. Underdog actors were used for this movie. Aside from renowned Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, most of the actors in the film were unknown and had to attend a training camp. The rawness of their talent was evident in the film.
  4. Africans are the heroines and heroes of this story. There is no white protagonist playing saviour here. Phiona Mutesi’s talent nurtured by Richard Katende’s coaching and vision are what enabled this story to come to life and make it a beautiful one.
  5. It is relatable in a lot of ways. The film highlights the struggles one faces to gain victory:
    • the seemingly unsanitary (excuse the pun) circumstances that we often find ourselves that appear to be unconducive to success but in actual fact, are essential to success
    • it is a human story which we can connect to
    • it highlights how as humans, we all have the capability to a better life outside of what we know
    • it provides hope that so many of us thirst for everyday

If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend that you go and see this moving memoir.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.” 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


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