Queen of Katwe
Director: Mira Nair
Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o
Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes
I’m not going to lie: I normally don’t have a lot of patience for sports movies. I have so little interest for sports in real life, it really affects my engagement level with a movie centered around them. Chess may not be a sport sport, but I knew Queen of Katwe would function much like a sports movie, which made me a little apprehensive walking in. Thankfully, Queen of Katwe is a nice blend of conventional and unconventional elements that combine for a pleasing, heartwarming trip to the theater.
David Oyelowo himself has expressed surprise at Disney helping this movie get made and really, can you blame him? When was the last time you saw a movie, especially a Disney movie, with an all-black cast? Where the only white people on screen don’t even speak? It’s a small miracle this movie got financed, let alone a limited release immediately followed by a wide release the next week, and by Disney of all studios (although they’ve definitely got cash to spare, what with Marvel and Star Wars under their belt).
So, yes, Queen of Katwe follows the normal conventions of a sports movie (vague spoilers for a true story?): exposure to the sport, realization of talent, practice, repeated success, adversity/failure, and eventual success/happiness. But the unique, inspiring story and talented cast help elevate this to something more engaging and emotional than your usual run-of-the-mill sports movie.
Speaking of the cast, if you’re one of those people that’s hesitant about kid actors, have no fear. I always feel bad saying a child actor isn’t good. I mean, they’re just a kid! But a bad performance is distracting no matter who’s giving it. Let director Mira Nair and casting director Dinaz Stafford show you how it’s done. All of the kids, especially the chess players in Katwe, feel authentic and enthusiastic. Plus, they’re just plain cute. Madina Nalwanga, who plays our lead Phiona, gives a quietly commanding performance as a girl slowly realizing there could be more out in the world for her. David and Lupita are equally strong, as expected, and Nair keeps the film moving at a slow but steady pace. It could have stood to be trimmed down a bit, but I never felt like the movie dragged or came to a screeching halt.
If you’re looking to support a female director, catch a movie with a diverse cast, or just see something that’ll make you feel good, you can’t do much better than this.
Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
Queen of Katwe is now playing in theaters.
Kelly O. has a Bachelor’s in art history and is currently working towards a master’s in information. She also has an unofficial degree in watching too much TV and film (according to her mom). Follow her @kelly_streets and read more of her reviews at Kelly Tries Critique.