It was Tim Crothers, the Chapel Hill-based sports journalist who first discovered Phiona’s story and later penned a full-length biographical novel chronicling her story; finally a movie is out as well, as of September 23 in the United States after its official Disney premiere on Tuesday evening. Uganda’s reigning chess star, the twenty-year-old Phiona Mutesi who’s also the film’s real-life heroine, graced the red carpet outside the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.
The film is produced by Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, and after its limited release in North America today, it will be followed by a general theatrical release on September 30. Meanwhile in Uganda, it will be officially premiered October 1.
Phiona Mutesi is the young woman from a Kampala slum called Katwe, who became an international chess champion under the guidance of a local missionary, Robert Katende. This is the story that Disney has attempted to capture in this 2016 American biographical sports drama film directed by Mira Nair from a screenplay by William Wheeler.
This film stars Hollywood’s heavyweights David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, and Ugandan newcomer, Madina Nalwanga. This film, in fact, cutely paints a portrait of the kind of life Phiona Mutesi lived in this forlorn town of Katwe, only to become a Woman Candidate Master after her performances at World Chess Olympiads.
According to David Oyelowo who plays David Katende in the movie, “This is the kind of film the likes of which doesn’t normally get this kind of fanfare.” Surprisingly it has had such amazing acclaims coming from almost everywhere. When Queen of Katwe was screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival recently, the film garnered praise for its non-Caucasian cast, setting, and subject matter; elements regarded as rare for a major American studio release.
As for Variety’s Geoff Berkshire, Disney release from veteran helmer Mira Nair is quietly radical in enough ways to make you cheer despite the cliches.
Meanwhile Katie Rife of A. V. Club feels Director Mira Nair has a proven ability to find beauty in the most desperate of circumstances, and Queen Of Katwe is no different.
As it is Queen of Katwe is rated with a comfortable 6.6/10 according to IMDb, 68% on Metacritic and 76% for Rotten Tomatoes.
The cast includes; Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi, David Oyelowo as Robert Katende, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakku Harriet, Martin Kabanza as Mugabi Brian, Taryn Kyaze as Night (as Taryn “Kay” Kyaze), Ivan Jacobo as Young Richard, Nicolas Levesque as Older Richard, Ronald Ssemaganda as Ivan, Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin, Nikita Waligwa as Gloria, Edgar Kanyike as Joseph, Esther Tebandeke as Sara Katende, Maurice Kirya and Ntare Mwine as Theo and Tendo respectively.
As for Composer Alex Heffes, he composed the score for the film. Alicia Keys wrote and recorded the song “Back to Life” for the film. This soundtrack is due for release on September 23 by Walt Disney Records.