The Disney movie is based upon the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young female chess player from the Katwe slums of Uganda. The movie trailer on YouTube and this movie review from the Cape Times will give you a good idea of what to expect from the movie.
You can't get much worse off than being in the slums of Katwe, so it is a remarkable story. Phiona starts off playing chess to get a free mug of porridge, then finds that she is actually very good at the game. After several months her coach, Robert Katende, scrapes together the entry fees and she wins her first schools tournament, at a very posh school in Kampala. The contrast between the school and the slum is stark. I was a little puzzled that Phiona had a pen and notation sheet at her board, as she was illiterate at that time. Some time later, having been taught to read by Katende's wife, she starts reading Kasparov's "Test of Time" by the light of a paraffin lamp.
Quite how Phiona goes on to represent Uganda at a youth tournament in Sudan, and subsequently at the FIDE World Chess Olympiad in Russia, is never really explained. As many chess parents can tell you, competing overseas is extremely expensive, so where did the money come from? Was there a private donor involved, or did the Ugandan government provide funding? Also not mentioned in the film is that Phiona met her chess hero, Garry Kasparov, at a 2013 seminar in New York.
|cover of "Queen of Katwe", published in 2013|
The movie was well received by the children, who laughed at some of the situations Phiona found herself in. Perhaps they had been in or had seen similar situations in the townships of Ethekwini? Hopefully this movie will inspire them in their future.