If you are looking for an inspiring family film this weekend, my recommendation is Queen of Katwe. For a family film, this latest live-action release from Disney is a rarity: a girl power movie starring an unlikely heroine conquering the cerebral game of chess. The film follows Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a fourteen-year-old girl who resides with her fatherless family in the slums of Katwe, Uganda. Unable to attend school, Phiona sells maize with her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), but clearly hopes there’s more to life. She stumbles upon that “something more” when she discovers the practice room of a chess club, where missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) is teaching the local children, most of whom live on the street, to play.
Uneducated but with impeccable instincts, Phiona not only soon masters the game, but outplays the best in the group. Katende realizes that all his children possess something special, and sets out to prove it to the world when he enters the children in the prestigious parochial school chess competition. Phiona proves that she can bring home the trophies, but her winning is not without personal struggles.
What I love about this movie is that it’s a thoughtful film that parents as much as children eight and above will appreciate. While much of the action might go over the heads of younger children, they will understand and root for Phiona’s victories against the odds. It’s a feel-good story that portrays a side of African culture we don’t see enough: the ebullience and joy that’s part of the Ugandan nation’s character in spite of the often impoverished living conditions of its citizens.
My daughter, almost seven, appreciated this movie, and hopes to learn chess one day, just like Phiona.