Movie Review – ‘Queen of Katwe’

“Checkmate!  Viewers will cheer on these young pioneers as they discover their inner self-worth and competitive spirit!”

– Patrick King, REEL


Last month unofficially kicked off the start to this year’s Academy Award season.  Between now and the first two weeks of January, moviegoers will be barraged by Oscar hopeful films hitting nationwide theaters with exceptional personal stories to tell.  Stories told through amazing acting performances, brilliant cinematography, convincing movie sets and pace-setting musical scores.  One such film, a low-budget head-turner deserving of early award chatter, was quietly released at the end of September by Walt Disney Studios and ESPN Films…“Queen of Katwe”.

Directed by Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair, “Queen of Katwe” is a heartwarming narrative about a young girl’s heady chess game talents inside a Ugandan slum.  Based off Tim Crothers’ article for ESPN The Magazine and his later book, “Queen of Katwe” captures the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by Madina Nalwanga), attempting to become one of the world’s best chess players.

Filmed solely in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, and the big city of Johannesburg, South Africa, the movie instills the notion that a small person (a “pawn” in chess) could become a big person (“Queen”) using steady doses of determination and strategy.  Without laying down or giving up, a poor, uneducated, weak girl and her family could be given a better life with a fresh start.


“Queen of Katwe” miraculously captures the culture shock experienced by Phiona and her fellow teenage chess players as their gaming skills are noticed well beyond their shantytown. Viewers will cheer on these young pioneers as they discover their inner self-worth and competitive spirit!  Incredible performances, led by the highly acclaimed duo of David Oyelowo (“Selma”) and Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”), carry this unbelievable and inspirational winner!

The film generates wide audience appeal using a board game to connect us to characters who change others’ life paths.  Oyelowo’s dynamic mentorship and ability to see Phiona’s remarkable gift eloquently taps into the movie’s strongest chess move of all; the strength of two women.  We find a widowed mother (Nyong’o) harboring concern for finding daily food weighing whether she should allow a daughter to pursue an unorthodox dream.

But it’s the spectacular work of 16-year old newcomer Madina Nalwanga to the big-screen, that coincidently mimics the rise of the young Ugandan junior chess master she portrays, which truly tugs at the audience’s heart. As Nalwanga stoically ponders her next strategic maneuver as Phiona, moviegoers would be wise to take note of the film’s championship moves: superb acting carries a hopeful life message and instills a headstrong perseverance in young kids.

With end-of-the-year award film competition now in full swing, look for “Queen of Katwe” to take down lesser movies with its winning, feel-good strategy.  Or as Phiona Mutesi would say, “Checkmate”.

Grade: A

“Queen of Katwe” is rated PG for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material.  Its running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.

© 2016, Patrick. All rights reserved.

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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office".   - Judy O.

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