I could go on about Disney’s latest film, Queen of Katwe for hours, but its director, Mira Nair, summed up one of the most important points about the film during her statement at last night’s press conference held before the Johannesburg premiere of the film at Montecasino in Fourways.
“This is the first Disney movie set in Africa without an animal in sight,” said Nair.
I have read about the movie on many an occasion but none of those articles could have prepared me for the moving tale, told brilliantly by an entirely African cast and a predominantly African crew.
Disney’s ‘Queen of Katwe’ is based on a true story, told first in the form of a novel (as they usually are) and later turned into the film we got to see last night.
The film tells the tale of young Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga) and how a chance meeting with soccer-player-turned-missionary-and-chess-coach, Robert Katende (played by David Oyelowo) introduces her to chess.
Despite her lack of a formal education and her life of abject poverty, Phiona quickly excels at the game and grows as a chess player. Her skills as a chess virtuoso introduce her to a world she never thought possible and it is that introduction to a whole new world that ignites the girl’s desire to change her life.
Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o plays the role of Harriet, Mutesi’s fierce and determined mother, whose sole purpose in life is to ensure that her children are clothed, fed and have a roof over their heads in spite of the harsh circumstances they live in.
Nyong’o’s portrayal of a Ugandan mother is so unbelievably accurate that children across Africa, young and old will see parts of their own mother in her, no matter where they are from. It is so accurate in fact, that one would believe the 33-year-old has had years of experience raising children of her own.
Although Nyong’o and Oyelowo are from America and the UK respectively, the fact that they are of African descent allowed them to portray the characters (accents and all) in a way that resonated with other Africans as truly authentic.
The fact that the cast was entirely African also made it easier for us to be able to relate to each character.
Nalwanga (for lack of a better term) killed it in her portrayal of Phiona. Her acting, alongside Nyongo’s made it hard for me to hold the tears back. I found myself intruiged, engaged and hopeful that in spite of the series of unfortunate events befalling her family, it would all be alright in the end.
And alright it was. So much so that I found myself bawling as soon as the final scene faded to black.
The film is testament to what happens when minorities are put in charge of telling their own stories with the backing of established institutions such as Disney.
Queen of Katwe opens in South African cinemas of the 14th of Ocotber 2016.
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