Release Date: September 23, 2016 (limited), September 30, 2016 (wide)
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: William Wheeler
Cast: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza, Taryn Kyaze, Ivan Jacobo, Nicolas Levesque, Ronald Ssemaganda, Ethan Nazario Lubega, Nikita Waligwa, Edgar Kanyike, Esther Tebandeke, Hope Katende, Philip Luswata, Peter Odeke, Maurice Kirya, Minky Ndlovu, Jack Kinobe Sserunkuuma, Irene Kulabako Kakembo, Allen Musumba, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes
Production Company: ESPN Films, Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Productions
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport
Country: South Africa, USA
Budget: $15,000,000 (estimated)
Disney is doing well with their biographical true stories of brave individuals that overcome adversity. In 2015 they produced McFarland USA about a united cross country team, and this year we have an up and coming queen chess master in Uganda. It’s another perfect illustration of what someone else’s reality may be, as opposed to your own. It’s inspiring, powerful, and will boost your mood. The cast is in a league of their own with Oscar winners and contenders, and overall it’s a breath of fresh air to a culture most are unaware of.
Queen of Katwe is about becoming more than you’d thought was possible. The vehicle used to tell the story is through the game of chess, and if you know the game you know there are infinite possibilities that can determine the outcome. That’s the same way life is, and the film did a pleasant job explaining this through a large number of great analogies and metaphors. The ideas came from Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who is Phiona’s (Madina Nalwanga) chess instructor/mentor. If his middle name was “motivation” I wouldn’t be surprised, because he’s filled with it. The performance that was given by Oyelowo was flawless as usual, and his look on screen was that of a perfect teacher. On a side note, he’s a prime example of accepting his calling to help others. Everyone can’t be the leader, but there are those who inspire others to lead. And each role is extremely important when dealing with life. Phiona herself was thankful for what she had and only dreamed just like the rest of us in the world as we live our lives. Her innocent face was to die for, and there was so much beauty in her eyes. And just like the song says, “She get it from her momma,” that was clearly the case with her mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o). This is the kind of mother everyone wants. She works hard, takes responsibility, is strong, and not to be double crossed. Nyong’o’s performance was soft, but then hard as a rock when it was necessary. I could feel the true love she had for her daughter, but also fear of what’s to come in the real world.
With performances executed with such precision, it wouldn’t have mattered if it wasn’t properly pieced together. That’s when director Mira Nair shows her talent. She wasn’t on my radar before, but is now for sure. Her ability to set the stage to get the true impact for each shot was spot on. The film spanned over a number of years telling the origin of the journey, and with her direction it really felt like I was there in the midst of things. The lead performances that were mentioned earlier were fantastic, but every cast member pulled their respected weight. It all felt genuine from all the laughs and cries. The struggle that the people go through on a daily basis shone bright and clear, yet everyone there still has something to be happy about.
That’s what’s so great about the overall story. It illustrates that no matter where you come from or what you’re going through you can always overcome it by using your mind, and when trapped taking advantage of all your surroundings. That’s the best way to live and can be a savior of some sorts. This is the type of film that inspires you to construct your own building right afterwards, because you feel invincible. The only complaint in the film is a few minutes could’ve been shaved off. As the timeline is jumping year to year, it’s clear some of the story points were unnecessary. They’re wonderful scenes, but hurt the overall flow of the film.
Whether you go see it in theaters or wait until home release, it’s nearly impossible not to find something positive that will motivate you after your viewing. It’s a powerful film about changing one’s destiny and spreading your wings to fly. I learned something from this film. So chances are you may too. If only there were more films like this to fill theaters, instead of a lot of the trash that holds no real substance.