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Queen of Katwe Movie Review

Reviewed by on Sep 29, 2016
Rating: 4 Star Rating

Kidzworld saw Queen of Katwe, the inspiring story of a slum girl whose talent for playing chess takes her and her family out of poverty. Is the film a must see? Read our movie review.

By: Lynn Barker

Queen of Katwe asks the question, do you dare to dream big if you live in poverty? For 14-year-old Phiona Mutesi, the answer is a resounding “yes” even when her mom, afraid her daughter’s big dreams will disappoint her, objects to Phiona pursuing her God given talent for…playing chess.

Phiona's mom doesn't want her to be disappointedPhiona's mom doesn't want her to be disappointedCourtesy of Disney

Veggie Vendor

In the slum town of Katwe in Uganda, young Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) sells vegetables on the streets. Her single mother can’t afford to send her to school. Phiona has little brothers and her mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) doesn’t dare encourage her kids to wish for more or they will be sad and disappointed.

Phiona's mom Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) hopes to make money for the familyPhiona's mom Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) hopes to make money for the familyCourtesy of Disney

Discovering Chess

From a makeshift church program Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) teaches Katwe kids chess to improve their minds and give them pride. Phiona follows her younger bro Brian (Martin Kabanza) to the church and watches the kids play becoming mesmerized by the game. While her older sister starts going out with a no-good pimp headed down the road to being a “street woman”, Phiona is encouraged by Robert to follow her dreams. She is a natural at chess.

Robert encourages Phiona to try playing chessRobert encourages Phiona to try playing chessCourtesy of Disney

Rising Through the Ranks

Robert starts entering the kids in chess tournaments and Phiona is his star player. She starts winning, even against boys, although she is illiterate. Fancy schools impress and also frighten the slum kids but they play their best. Phiona becomes national junior chess champion all while facing the family’s eviction and a horrible street life when she isn’t playing. Her brother is run over by a motorcycle yet the family can’t afford good medical care for him. She is caught between two worlds.

Phiona kisses a chesspiece for luckPhiona kisses a chesspiece for luckCourtesy of Disney

The Chess Olympics

Phiona learns that if she can play on an international level she can receive a “stipend” or salary from the chess associations. She is frightened and, for a time goes to live with Robert and family, starting to learn to read. Her desperate mother Harriet feels abandoned but wants a better life for Phiona. Phiona and some of the Katwe team go to Russia for the Olympics of chess representing Uganda on an adult level. Phiona starts to doubt herself and loses in a final match. For a time she withdraws from chess.

An early winAn early winCourtesy of Disney

The Comeback

With her family and all of Katwe behind her, Phiona finally enters the National Chess Championships again. With the goal of someday supporting her family with the “sport” she loves, Phiona will give it her best. Will she win? Will her family move out of the slum for a better life?

Phiona in the final game of National ChampionshipsPhiona in the final game of National ChampionshipsCourtesy of Disney

Wrapping Up

Queen of Katwe is a beautiful, inspiring story, well-acted by professionals like Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo and newcomers like Madina Nalwanga playing Phiona. Is it the typical “underdog makes good” story? Yes, basically but with the both sad and colorful setting of a Ugandan slum, it becomes a new tale of hope where there should be none and the human spirit transcending all odds.

The real Phiona and Robert The real Phiona and Robert Courtesy of Disney

The only downfall is the repetitive nature of the movie. Watching chess being played isn’t the most exciting visual experience but since the stakes are so high for Phiona and her family, the audience becomes invested in her winning match after match and we root for her and her downtrodden mom, beautifully played by Lupita, to come to an understanding that it’s okay to dream and act on those dreams. Be sure to stay at the end of the film to meet the real people the characters are based upon. They all come on screen with the actors playing them to take a bow.  If you love to root for the worthy underdog, go see this inspirational film. We go four stars.

Queen of Katwe Movie Rating: 4

Queen of Katwe PosterQueen of Katwe PosterCourtesy of Disney

Queen of Katwe is in theaters Friday, September 30th!


Have Your Say

Do you love to watch young people win against impossible odds? Are you a dreamer who plans to act on your dreams? Talk about it below.