Mira Nair’s artistic chess production, Queen of Katwe, is phenomenal in the most elementary yet abysmal way. Rather than simply focusing on the daunting and anticipatory nature of the game, Nair has incorporated the various struggles faced by the Ugandan low class and drew exceptional parallels between the board game and real life.

The story sets off in 2007 where Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), along with her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) and her siblings, resides in Katwe and sells maize on the streets. One fine day she comes across a makeshift chess centre headed and taught by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). Timid in the initial stages, Phiona rapidly finds herself proficient at chess and climbing to the leading position in class. Phiona eventually perceives the game as an escape route from her poverty as she begins to transcend others at chess and win various tournaments.

The film’s most heartrending moments deal with the setbacks she opposes when she has to return from an international chess tournament to face the Katwe slums anew; such as eviction, her sister night decamping with an older man, and an unaffordable hospitalization. To Nair’s credit, she doesn’t portray these events as dulcet tragedies but rather as a backdrop of a mundane life for people aging with finite resources and options. But the factual struggles Mutesi opposes stand in utter contrast to the abstract foresighted ones on the board, where she’s more experienced in governing the outcome.

The settings are wonderfully shot and though it’s hard to prove their accuracy, life in central Africa is rarely portrayed with such comportment, which is probably the most commendable aspect of this movie. Conflict with patronizing public school children might be a bit brusque, but it’s shown merely for benevolent humour, and the key is the solemnity and the spirit, finished with a sentiment that makes it something unique: a kids’ avocation film where stakes are really high.

Malvika Nair
Student Reporter