Queen of Katwe (PG)

Summer is over and we now turn to the time of year when strong Oscar contenders are released.  Queen of Katwe is an Oscar nomination-worthy film that captures you from the first note and transports you along with these characters on their journey until they drop you back off in the theater 2 hours and four minutes later.  Shoot…  I felt like I just got back from Africa when it was over.  The small (less than 25 people) but diverse adult audience I watched with cheered and applauded at the end.

Simply put, Queen of Katwe is an instant, feel-good, Disney Classic.  Lupita Nyongo slays with a performance reminiscent of Cicely Tyson and David Oyelowo brings Sidney Portier to mind again and again (he did for me at least twice).  The Queen of Katwe herself, a/k/a Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi is thoughtfully played by Madina Nalwanga, in her debut acting role.

Queen of Katwe was shot in Uganda and South Africa. The scenery becomes a character on its own as it is used over and over again to depict the humility, the poverty and the beauty of Katwe, a slum outside Kampala – the capitol of Uganda.  The scenery, lighting and camerawork are thoughtfully utilized to highlight the stark contrast between the perception of poverty and the perception of wealth and to show the difference between all other places and the small, impoverished Ugandan village of Katwe.  These elements helped the movie play like an animated Disney tale.  I would love, love, love to see this movie adapted into an animated Disney movie where the heroine is not the traditional “princess.”  I think the time to move girls’ psyches away from that mythical way of thinking is long overdue.  But that is just one woman’s opinion.

This coming-of-age tale hit all the right emotional notes for me, never becoming too melodramatic as it tells the story of a poor Ugandan girl who, along with her entire family, has to learn to cope with her ascension out of poverty, out of the life that has been a family cycle probably for generations, and out of her comfort zone.

Queen of Katwe contains valuable life lessons for children presented in a way that will resonate with them. It is okay for a girl to be brilliant and allow that brilliance to shine.  Girls can be better at things than boys sometimes, without boys taking it personally or feeling like it makes them any less brilliant.  It teaches children not to judge “books” by “covers”; not to label people and put them into the ridiculous boxes we are taught to build in our heads.  It teaches the importance of mentorship, community and family.  It teaches and/or reminds adults of the same things, as well as what a profound impact we could have on our communities if we are willing to be an example for and dedicate some time to our children.  It reminds adults that regardless of culture or ethnicity, we all want the same things for our children: for them to be safe; for them be healthy; and for them to be happy.

Queen of Katwe is an important movie for all cultures, all ethnicities, and all ages to see. It is a movie that boys will enjoy just as much as girls.  It is the story of a young girl exploring and accepting her gift and learning about the difference between confidence and arrogance – about her mother learning how to trust and allow her children to flourish and fly – and about the young girl’s chess coach who learns what his true, higher calling is.

Most importantly, Queen of Katwe is a story of empowerment for gifted children (particularly girls) who come from poverty and break free of the expectations that are placed on their lives. It is the journey of a girl unfamiliar with the business of pursuing dreams in a world where dreams really do not exist; a world where the only thing people believe in is back breaking work and hustling – and if a girl is lucky, maybe she will find a man to care for her.

I loved it, and I related to it as the mother of a gifted child who is now a gifted woman.  Fortunately, I had no trouble letting my child fly, but I can certainly understand how other mothers might.  I believe you will love this movie too if you give it a chance.  Please don’t let your children and grandchildren miss this gem.

Queen of Katwe earned 9.5 out of 10 bloops.  My only problem with it was it could have been a tad shorter.  Perhaps 15 minutes.  Other than that, I have no complaints.  The story is heart-warming and unique, features strong acting, strong female characters, evolving characters and provides plenty of conversation points for children and adults.  It is fresh material from a true life story that deserves to be told.  It made me cry sad tears and happy tears (in other words I was sniveling and wiping tears then laughing out loud the next minute).  It is thought provoking.  It helps you to appreciate the struggle of others, as well as your own as these beautiful, poor, African children who do not have a roof over their head or food to eat at times maintain smiles on their faces.  It helps you appreciate how good you’ve got it.  And it is a movie you and your children will want to watch again and again.  At least I know I will.  THIS is how you set off Oscar season!  Go Disney!

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