Thursday, May 04, 2017

Queen of Katwe: There Are So Many Reasons to See It!

Movie Review: Queen of Katwe (2016)
Version: Library Borrow

Queen of Katwe is a heartwarming story of a young Ugandan girl whose world dramatically changes after discovering the game of chess. There are so many reasons to see it!

It stars Madina Nalwanga as Phiona, who with her impoverished fatherless family lives in a barely wooden shack on a dirt street in Katwe, a neighborhood in the capital of Kampala, Uganda, sells corn on the streets to eek out a minimal living.

David Oyelowo plays Robert Katende, an engineer who takes on work in a Christian ministry while waiting for a much better paying job to support his wife and family, and he runs the children's chess club.

One day, Phiona looks in on the chess club while Robert is setting up the players and he invites her in. Phiona smells and the other children tease her. Robert makes the other children teach Phiona the basic moves of chess and she quickly learns the game. Phiona cleans up for her next visit to the club, and the other children accept her into the group - but not for long, for she quickly masters the game and wins the club championship.

We watch as Phiona moves from club champion to attend tournaments at other clubs, beating kids in big schools against educated children. Soon Robert himself can't beat her, and Phiona's inability to read makes it difficult for her to read the books he provides for her to learn from the masters. Robert's wife tutors her.

While Phiona is facing struggles learning, she has struggles at home. Her mother, facing the difficulties of raising two young sons and a defiant second daughter under poverty conditions, doesn't trust Robert to take Phiona under his wing. And losing Phiona to the rigors of learning and competing in chess means losing her help in selling the corn on the street to support the family financially. But Robert helps her understand what learning can mean for Phiona's opportunities for the future, and she relents.

Robert finagles schools and tournaments to allow his club, and particularly Phiona, to compete, despite their being unschooled and poor, and they do surprisingly well. But the competitions aren't without their difficulties, difficulties that provide Phiona with challenges and doubts about here abilities. She even competes in the Russian Chess Olympiad in Moscow, although with questionable results.

In the end, it is Phiona's spirit that triumphs and that is what is lovable about this film. Watching her master the game, out strategize better players and see her eyes light up in triumph, grow in confidence and sometimes over confidence, and become the hope for her people and ultimately the Queen of Katwe makes for wonderful film making.

Queen of Katwe is based on a true story, and those are often the best films. During the end credits, you are introduced to the real Phiona, Robert, and other characters of this film, alongside the actors who play them.

If you like playing chess, this is a must-watch film. If you like stories about people who overcome odds to become a success, this is a winner film. If you like movies with women as positive role models, this movie is definitely for you. If you like films that explore diverse cultures in all their depth and complexity, Queen of Katwe is that movie. See it!

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