Queen of Katwe Parent Review
A good choice for older children and teens, that will generate discussions about exploring one's own talents and learning from Robert’s example of mentoring and helping others.
Queen of Katwe takes the sports movie genre to a place it hasn’t visited before: The slums of Uganda. On the red-earth streets with sewage ditches dug along rows of corrugated tin shacks is the home where Phiona Mutesi (played by Madina Nalwanga) lives with her mother Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o), older sister Night (Taryn “Kay” Kyaze), and younger brothers Brian (Martin Kabanza) and Richard (Ivan Jacobo and Nicolas Levesque). Earning a meager income selling maize (corn) on the gridlocked streets of Kampala, the family members return home to the slums of Katwe where they eat a meager meal and settle in for another dark night.
Illiterate and too poor to attend school, Phiona follows her brother Brian to a ramshackle church where they discover a group of other kids their age learning to play a strange game called chess. Leading the training is Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who is temporarily working for a religious charity while looking for a job in his field of electrical engineering. All the same, Robert finds great reward in helping his students master the classic game.
Quickly recognizing Phiona’s natural abilities of logic and strategy, Robert begins to work with her more intently. Understandably, Phiona’s mother isn’t happy to have her kids wasting time playing a game when it takes every effort they can expend to bring food into their home. After she pulls them out of the class by their ears, Robert begs her to allow them to continue. He explains the benefits of mastering chess, such as becoming more confident and able to move forward with an education. She is reluctant until Robert promises the widow that he will make sure her children are taught by the best teacher in Kampala. That educator turns out to be Robert’s wife Hope (playing herself), who begins teaching Phiona how to read, while the chess coach offers the girl a collection of strategy guides for the game. Anxious to excel, the Phiona spends her nights in her primitive dwelling, absorbing this information by the light of a paraffin lamp.
Phiona’s success ironically serves as sad contrast to her impoverished life. Nakku, who was left with next to nothing after her husband’s death, now has a daughter coming home with elaborate trophies instead of food. (One of my favorite scenes shows the baby eating his small serving of porridge out of the cup that adorns one of the awards – it is the only useful purpose they can find for the gaudy trinket.) Adding to the mother’s anxiety is her older daughter Night’s decision to hop on the back of a wealthy man’s motorcycle to find protection. Not surprisingly, the consequences of her choice are exposed some time later when the discarded girl returns pregnant.
Nakku, a beautiful woman who is admired by men, also considers whether or not she should find a rich suiter to solve her money problems. Although she sometimes skips out on paying bills, she remains determined to set a positive moral example for her children. Always putting the good of her family first, the loving mother constantly makes personal sacrifices.
Some dialogue regarding the financial benefits of acquiring a “sugar daddy” is included and Night’s pregnancy is briefly mentioned (she is later seen with a baby). The only other content issue with the film is the depiction of a character suddenly being hit by a vehicle. His injuries require painful surgery without an anesthetic. Minimal blood is depicted during these scenes.
Of course Phiona becomes an amazing player, but this script doesn’t shy away from the challenges and realities of competition. Dealing with disappointment, pride and recognition of her responsibility to her family, Phiona ‘s journey offers much more than a victory tour. Providing powerful messages of hope, persistence and the importance of a life grounded in faith and education, this movie is a good choice for older children and teens. After the film, parents may want to encourage their offspring to exploring their own talents and discuss Robert’s example of mentoring and helping others.
From an artistic point of view, this true story is brought to life in a superlative manner. Director Mira Nair takes the real-world streets of Katwe, where much of this movie is shot, and extracts a sense of beauty that is remarkably powerful. Along with Nyong’o and Oyelowo, who have previously proven their incredible screen skills, she introduces Madina Nalwanga who was found during a local casting session. She, along with many other young faces from the region, give wonderful performances despite their inexperience. By the time the credits roll, there are many who are worthy to wear the crown of the Queen of Katwe.Directed by Mira Nair. Starring Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo, Madina Nalwanga. Running time: 124 minutes. Updated October 10, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Queen of Katwe here.
Queen of Katwe Parents Guide
Do any aspects of this movie break stereotypes you may have had about people who live in poverty? If you were in the same situation Nakku faces after the death of her husband, what would you do to survive and provide for your family’s needs?
Is the role of women and their status in the community different in this movie than where you live? In what ways? What are the priorities of the women in this setting? What are the priorities of women in your community?
Robert’s wife, Hope (who is played by Hope Katende, the real world wife of Robert Katende), fully supports her husband’s decision to put charitable service above monetary compensation. Why is this her priority? How does it compare with Western interests? Is it possible for a woman to support her spouse while also achieving her personal goals and desires? Do men face similar challenges and make comparable compromises?
Robert makes major personal sacrifices to continue his chess program. What does he get in return? What sacrifices would you be willing to make for the benefit of others? What might you gain for your efforts?
There are many chess metaphors in this script. What did you learn from the possibility of a little piece like a pawn being able to become the queen? How did you feel when Robert points out that the beauty of both the game and life is you can reset the pieces after a loss and play again?