Girl power for real

Queen of Katwe 

Girl power for real.

Queen of Katwe tells the true story of a girl from the slum of Katwe (an area in Kampala, Uganda’s capital) who becomes one of the country’s great chess champions.

The story is told from a female perspective with a female-empowered point-of-view.

Chess is about the fight for survival and provides a metaphor for the struggle of the poor who are pawns in a larger, more powerful machine.

As one girl tells Phiona, “the small can become big,” referring to the ability of a pawn to become a queen.

Phiona’s family lives a life of survival. She and her brother walk to the market each morning to buy raw corn. Their mother roasts the corn and they must return to the city to sell the cooked corn to motorists stuck in traffic jams.

They fight to sell their product amid hundreds of other such vendors. Their success each day determines whether their family will eat.

No one in her family attends school as their widowed mother cannot afford tuition or uniforms.

Attracted to the chess club meeting because she is hungry and the charitable mission is feeding the children porridge, Phiona is ridiculed by the other children for being dirty and smelly.

She cleans herself up and returns day after day to learn, eventually becoming the best chess player in the club.

Despite her mother’s dire warnings, her older sister, Night, chooses the path many young women take —  moving in with the first man who takes an interest in her.

Phone, in her early teens, wonders which way she will go — or might be forced to go — as she grows up.

"Very soon, men will start coming after me," she says fearfully. "Where is my safe square, coach?"

As Phiona’s success with chess grows, so does her disillusionment. She becomes dissatisfied with her home and her existence of subsistence. She struggles with her desire to have a better life and to maintain her simple and predictable life.

Newcomer Madina Nalwanga has a pensive and quiet appeal as Phiona. We believe her inner fight, her intelligence, her fear and her insecurity.

Lupita Nyong’o is brilliant as the tough, single mother, Nakku, who holds her impoverished family together. Several times Nakku rejects the easy path of letting a man take care of her in favour of setting a strict standard of behaviour for her children.

The part was written specifically for Nyong’o, who—coincidentally—had been director Nair’s intern when she was making her 2006 movie, The Namesake.

David Oyelowo (Selma) is charming in his role as coach Robert Katendwe who rejects a lucrative engineering career in the city in favour of helping children in the slum. Katendwe is a loving family man and is a thoughtful and grounding force in the community.

A female-centric movie with an all-black cast and directed by a woman of colour, this film is a statistical anomaly.

According to Nair, “It’s not the suffering Africa that people associate with these stories. It’s not about hanging your head and wanting to be saved by somebody who comes from the outside.”

Filmed in Uganda and South Africa, the movie is colourful and brilliantly shot. At no time does the movie condescend to the people who live in poverty but compassionately and accurately portrays the simple joys and tragic struggles they face.

Nyong’o, Oyelowo, and Nalwanga spent time with their off-screen counterparts to learn how to best represent their lives and it is a very touching conclusion to the film when the stars meet their real-life counterparts.

The Queen of Katwe sets a new standard for the movie industry, filmmakers, and audiences alike. It is a film that educates and illuminates; a film that should be seen.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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