The producers of the Disney and ESPN film, Queen of Katwe brings to the big screen, the real life of Phiona Mutesi, a young chess prodigy. Phiona lives with her mother played by Academy award winner, Lupita Nyong’o (Twelve Years A Slave) and siblings in the Ugandan town of Katwe.
One day, she and her brother find themselves at the local mission where the other children play chess, led by the mission’s counselor David Oyelowo, a role, that fits Olyelowo like a glove.
The natural ability and sharpness of Phiona’s skills are lethal, as she begins winning chess games against her opponents. She’s met with challenges between the struggles of home life–after the passing of her father and family provider.
Her mother, Harriet is quietly the more dominant character as she takes on the head of the household, raising her children on the humble earnings of selling vegetables in town’s market.
Nyong’o ‘s age doesn’t distract you from her youth as she grows wiser beyond her years taking on the reality of motherhood.
In preparing for the role of Harriet, Nyong’o was fascinated by the strength of the real life Harriet. She says she was inspired by observing her own mother.
“I was so moved by the complexities and the layers of the characters that I was meeting and particularly Harriet that I was going to play was a fierce mother who saw the world completely opposite on how I saw the world. I was raised to pursue my dreams, to dream out loud and reach for more than what I thought was possible. Here’s a woman who life has taught her to try and be as content with what she had already as possible.”
The screenplay written by William Wheeler, addresses many cultural and class prejudices that comes directly faces at us through the screen. Director, Mira Nair captures the beauty of Katwe’s bright colors from the red clay that becomes its own character, beautiful countryside of Uganda and the spirit of the country’s natives.
“Mira is a director that I have known and loved and respected for a very long time. She was definitely one of the directors on my bucket list. When she sent me this script and said I wrote this with you in mind, I had my finger crossed that I would love it. Ten pages in, I was weeping because what I found on the pages of B’s script was a true and uplifting story about this girl who comes from an unlikely place and achieves an unlikely dream.”
As Phiona’s fame rises, she enters a world opened to her beyond her village and puts an unfamiliar riff between her and her mother.
Queen of Katwe is filled with genuine emotion, as it captivates the spirit of great will, despair, determination and a higher goal that encourages Phiona to become Master chess champion, not only for herself but for the people of Katwe.
Nyong’o is known not only for her dynamic roles, stunning style and beauty but her unapologetic stance on social injustice.
“Through my relationship with my father, I recognized the value of social responsibility. We have a role to play and the direction of our society is going. It’s something that I’m very aware of and something I definitely feel like a participant,” Says Nyong’o. “When it comes to celebrity, we have a platform that cannot be denied. I don’t consider myself an expert, I am humbled by the people who have spent their lives studying these social, political issues and deepening their understanding and being able to articulate those things.”
She recalls her time as an intern working for Mira Nair ten years ago and the place of accomplishment she felt being a young production assistant. Lupita practices the same philosophy throughout her career, now as one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood.
“For me the main thing is, love where you are,” She said recently with the various interviews, people have been asking her how she started out as Nira’s intern ten years ago to her having the starring role in Queen of Katwe? She answers, “When I was her intern, I loved being her intern and felt so accomplished at that point so I would love to distill in people, you need to love where you are in order to find happiness in the present moment. Then, you are more equipped when you achieve bigger things.”
In her next projects, she is taking the role of one of her passions—producer.
She will be producing Americanah the third novel by renowned author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The 33-year-old finished her Broadway run of Eclipsed, the Danai Gurira’s drama, set amidst the Liberian Civil War.
“I’m going to be doing more producing. I’m not interested in directing—at least not now. The idea of being able to be in a position to create work for myself and for people like me is something I’m very passionate about. I worked for Mira’s film lab in Uganda 10 years ago. The slogan was ‘If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will’. It is up to us to tell our own stories and what we need is those opportunities. I would like to use that to further our stories.”
Queen of Katwe is released nationwide in major theatres on September 23.