Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe is a 2016 American biographical drama feature film directed by Mira Nair and written by William Wheeler. Starring David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, and Madina Nalwanga, the film depicts the life of Phiona Mutesi, a girl living in Katwe, a slum of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. She learns to play chess and becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her victories at World Chess Olympiads.
|Queen of Katwe|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mira Nair|
|Screenplay by||William Wheeler|
|Based on||The Queen of Katwe|
by Tim Crothers
|Music by||Alex Heffes|
|Edited by||Barry Alexander Brown|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios|
|Box office||$10.4 million|
Adapted from an ESPN magazine article and book by Tim Crothers, the film was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films. Queen of Katwe was screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The film had a limited release in the United States on September 23, 2016, before a general theatrical release on September 30.
Living in Katwe, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) and younger members of her family. She and her younger brother help their mother sell maize in the market. She also helps care for her baby brother. Her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) at a missionary program. Katende coaches soccer and teaches children to play chess at a local center. Curious, Phiona approaches and learns the game. She becomes fascinated with the game and soon becomes a top player in the group under Katende's guidance.
Her coach, over the initial opposition of the local chess authorities, takes her and the team to a national school level tournament at a prestigious local school. The group initially finds itself ill at ease among the other participants and the more affluent surroundings. However, their talent wins the day and Phiona comes in first place.
The film then proceeds to trace the ups and downs of success at competitions and tournaments for Phiona and her fellow Pioneers. The struggles of life in Katwe are ever present and Phiona hopes that chess will provide a means of escape from Katwe for her and her family.
Phiona leads the Uganda team at the Chess Olympiad in Russia, confident that she will succeed in becoming a Grand Master, securing the necessary finances to lift her family from poverty. However, the competition proves too tough, and she yields to her Canadian opponent.
Phiona returns to Katwe, dejected and doubting her abilities. However, with the support of Coach Katende and the people of Katwe, she returns to chess, ultimately succeeding to the extent that she can purchase a home for her family.
- Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi
- David Oyelowo as Robert Katende
- Lupita Nyong'o as Nakku Harriet
- Martin Kabanza as Mugabi Brian
- Taryn "Kay" Kyaze as Night, Phiona's older sister
- Ronald Ssemaganda as Ivan
- Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin
- Nikita Pearl Waligwa as Gloria, Phiona's friend
- Edgar Kanyike as Joseph
- Esther Tebandeke as Sara Katende
- Peter Odeke as Mr. Barumba
- Sheebah Karungi as Shakira
Tim Crothers wrote The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster, which chronicled Phiona Mutesi's life. Published by ESPN in 2012, it was optioned that same year by Walt Disney Pictures. Tendo Nagenda, Walt Disney Studios' senior creative executive, developed the project into production. He happens to be ethnic Ugandan. With executive approval from studio president Sean Bailey, Nagenda went to visit Mira Nair at her Ugandan home to recruit her to direct a film about Mutesi. Nair was captivated by the story, stating, "I have always been surrounded by these local stories but hadn’t done anything in Uganda since 1991. I love any story about people who make something from what appears to be nothing."
Mira Nair met with Mutesi, her mother Harriet, and the chess group run by coach Robert Katende. She invited screenwriter William Wheeler to come to Kampala to conduct interviews with the principal figures as a foundation for a screenplay. Nair filmed a short high-concept and presented it to Disney, to alleviate the studio's concerns about the film being entirely set in Africa.
Wheeler believed that the film could fit within the Disney tradition of films about "underdog" sports stories, noting that:
"we were trying to ... gently expand the idea of what a 'Disney film' could be. Disney was very open to wanting to tell an aspirational story about someone from someplace that is not at all familiar to Western audiences ... this could really fit into one of the things that they do very well – which is telling sports underdog stories and finding the ways the story naturally intersects with that genre of film."
Nair described Queen of Katwe as "a radical film for Disney in many ways.... It has beauty and barbarity side-by-side." In January 2015, Disney studio chairman Alan F. Horn greenlit the film into production for US$15 million.
In January 2015, David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o were cast as Robert Katende and Harriet Mutesi, respectively. They were Nair's first choices for the roles. Nyong'o said that she had decided to play the part after reading the script's first ten pages, saying "It was the first time I felt really awakened by a script and super challenged." Oyelowo immediately accepted the role, seeing the film as a "subversive work", given the lack of diversity in contemporary American cinema. Nair said that finding an actress to play Phiona was the most difficult. The casting search lasted from July to December 2014 and the production team auditioned nearly 700 girls. The casting director found Madina Nalwanga in a community dance class. The 15-year-old Ugandan dancer was cast as Phiona.
Principal photography began in April 2015. The film was shot in the Katwe slums in Kampala, Uganda and in Johannesburg, South Africa. More than one hundred Ugandans were hired as extras for the street scenes ; eighty had no prior experience with cameras. Nair set up an acting boot camp to help prepare the children for their scenes. Most professional Ugandan actors settled for roles as extras, including Gladys Oyenbot who acted as Lupita's stand-in double.
Nair and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt used different visual approaches for the various matches which Mutesi plays. Katende, who was present at the shoot, designed the games, while Nair and Bobbitt worked on each shot. The chess scenes were complicated because the call sheet contained actual chess moves. Nair and editor Barry Brown cut the scenes to create some drama. Production wrapped in June 2015 after 54 days of shooting.
The musical score for Queen of Katwe was composed by Alex Heffes. "It's a very thematic and gentle score that is more orchestral than something like Roots, although it's set in Africa," said Heffes. "There are plenty of authentic Ugandan needle drop tracks in the film to set the scene so the score could concentrate more on the music story telling."
Alicia Keys wrote and recorded the song "Back to Life" for the film; it was released on September 1, 2016 by RCA Records. A soundtrack album was released on September 23 by Walt Disney Records.
|Queen of Katwe (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||September 23, 2016|
|Singles from Queen of Katwe (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)|
|1.||"#1 Spice"||Young Cardamom & HAB||3:50|
|4.||"Tuli Kubigere"||A Pass||3:17|
|5.||"Bomboclat" (featuring Weasel)||Jose Chameleone||3:45|
|6.||"Brian, My Brother!"||Alex Heffes||1:00|
|8.||"Juicy"||Radio and Weasel||3:46|
|9.||"It Is Fine"||Alex Heffes||1:03|
|10.||"Engoma Yange"||Nsubuga Saava Karim||4:26|
|12.||"Oswadde Nnyo"||Afrigo Band and Moses Matovu||3:29|
|13.||"Mbilo Mbilo"||Eddy Kenzo||3:50|
|14.||"Escape from Hospital"||Alex Heffes||0:57|
|15.||"Nfunda N'omubi"||Afrigo Band and Joanita Kawalya||2:48|
|17.||"The Promise of Harriet"||Alex Heffes||1:16|
|19.||"Home Again"||Michael Kiwanuka||3:31|
|20.||"Back to Life"||Alicia Keys||4:54|
|21.||"Am I Ready?"||Alex Heffes||2:16|
|22.||"We Have a Champion"||Alex Heffes||1:15|
|23.||"New World"||Alex Heffes||2:01|
|24.||"Phiona Wins Joseph"||Alex Heffes||2:46|
|25.||"At the Threshold"||Alex Heffes||1:28|
|26.||"Father Grimes – Commence Play!"||Alex Heffes||1:09|
|27.||"Such Aggressiveness in a Girl Is a Treasure"||Alex Heffes||1:20|
|28.||"You Make a Plan Mama"||Alex Heffes||2:43|
|29.||"Is This Heaven?"||Alex Heffes||1:43|
|30.||"Like Ghosts"||Alex Heffes||1:45|
|32.||"The Water Takes Everything It Wants"||Alex Heffes||3:17|
|33.||"Robert Katende, I Am Your Mother"||Alex Heffes||1:47|
|35.||"Entering Rwabushenyi"||Alex Heffes||1:24|
|36.||"You Belong Here"||Alex Heffes||4:17|
|37.||"We Are Home"||Alex Heffes||2:26|
Queen of Katwe had its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. Disney held the corporate premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood on September 20, with another screening at the Urban World Festival on September 22. The African premieres were held in Kampala on October 1 and Johannesburg on October 5. The film had its European debut at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival on October 9. Another screening was held at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico on October 22. On November 12, it was screened at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and at the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival on the 24th.
Queen of Katwe opened on September 23 as a limited release in the United States, with an estimated Friday total of $82,000 averaging $1,577 per screen across 52 selected theaters. By the opening weekend, it earned $304,933 averaging $5,864 per screen. It opened on wide release on September 30 to 1,242 screens, and went on to gross $2.5 million in the first week.
Queen of Katwe received positive reviews from critics, with David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o's performances receiving unanimous praise. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 93% based on 165 reviews and an average rating of 7.4/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie of uncommon smarts and passion, and Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo's outstanding performances help elevate the film past its cliches." On Metacritic, the film has a normalized rating of 73 out of 100 based on reviews from 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale.
|List of awards and nominations|
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|African-American Film Critics Association||February 8, 2017||Top 10 Films||Queen of Katwe||10th place|||
|Africa Movie Academy Award||July 15, 2017||Africa Movie Academy Award for Most Promising Actor||Madina Nalwanga||Won|||
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role||David Oyelowo||Nominated|
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role||Lupita Nyong'o||Nominated|
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Director||Mira Nair||Nominated|
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Film||Queen of Katwe||Nominated|
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Production Design||Queen of Katwe||Nominated|
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Costume Design||Queen of Katwe||Won|
|Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Visual Effects||Queen of Katwe||Nominated|
|Alliance of Women Film Journalists||December 21, 2016||Best Woman Director||Mira Nair||Nominated|||
|Best Breakthrough Performance||Madina Nalwanga||Nominated|
|Black Reel Awards||February 16, 2017||Outstanding Actress||Madina Nalwanga||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Supporting Actress||Lupita Nyong'o||Nominated|
|Outstanding Original Song||"Back to Life" – Alicia Keys, Illangelo and Billy Walsh||Nominated|
|Critics Choice Awards||December 11, 2016||Best Young Performer||Madina Nalwanga||Nominated|||
|Evening Standard British Film Awards||December 8, 2016||Best Actor||David Oyelowo (also for A United Kingdom)||Nominated|||
|Golden Tomato Awards||January 12, 2017||Best Kids/Family Movie 2016||Queen of Katwe||2nd Place|||
|London Film Critics' Circle||January 22, 2017||British/Irish Actor of the Year||David Oyelowo (also for A United Kingdom)||Nominated|||
|NAACP Image Awards||February 11, 2017||Outstanding Actress||Madina Nalwanga||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Supporting Actress||Lupita Nyong'o||Nominated|
|Outstanding Supporting Actor||David Oyelowo||Nominated|
|Outstanding Film Director||Mira Nair||Nominated|
|National Film Awards UK||March 29, 2017||Best Actress||Lupita Nyong'o||Nominated|||
|Best International Film||Queen of Katwe||Nominated|
|Toronto International Film Festival||September 18, 2016||People's Choice Award||Mira Nair||3rd Place|||
|Women Film Critics Circle||December 19, 2016||Best Movie by a Woman||Queen of Katwe||Nominated|||
|Best Young Actress||Madina Nalwanga||Nominated|
|Best Female Images in a Movie||Queen of Katwe||Nominated|
|Best Family Film||Queen of Katwe||Won|
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