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“In chess, the small one can become the big one.”
Queen of Katwe is an uplifting movie filled with little inspirational nuggets like the one above. I went into the movie knowing very little about it, except that it starred one of my style heroes, Lupita Nyong’o. But I left the movie feeling a little stronger and richer than I did two hours earlier. It’s a very heartwarming story, moved along by compelling acting and a strong script. Keep reading for my spoiler-free Queen of Katwe movie review.



Official description from Disney:

“Queen of Katwe” is based on the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair from a screenplay by William Wheeler, “Queen of Katwe” is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher, p.g.a. and John Carls, p.g.a. with Will Weiske and Troy Buder serving as executive producers. The film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo, Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.

For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende (Oyelowo), a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.


First of all, don’t worry if you know nothing about chess. I have NO IDEA how to play chess or even what the pieces mean or anything. The movie gives you some basics and manages to make the chess matches seem interesting even if you have no clue what’s happening.


Newcomer Madina Nalwanga plays the role of Phiona brilliantly; I suspect we will see a lot more from this young lady in the future. There are a lot of remarkable young actor/actress performances in this movie. Nyong’o is super fierce, as always, as Phiona’s mother, struggling to raise her family when all odds are stacked against them. I was not very aware of Oyelowo before this movie (he was the lead guest at a taping of Conan I attended and he seemed cool), but he was so great as Phiona’s chess coach and mentor. And he held his own in scenes with my queen Lupita. I’m a new fan.


While I loved the movie, I will say the running time of just about two hours felt a little long, and even with a long running time there were a couple plot holes that left me scratching my head, which makes me think there are some deleted scenes we will get on the DVD, perhaps. These complaints are minor, as I really did enjoy the movie and encourage everyone to go see it, especially parents with pre-teen and teen girls.

Also, be sure to stay through the credits for a fun music video!


Want to learn more about Queen of Katwe? You can watch a couple clips from the movie here:

Queen of Katwe is rated PG and opens in wide release Friday, September 30, 2016.

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About Mindy

Mindy Marzec is a life-long Disney fan who grew up in Los Angeles. She started This Fairy Tale Life to share Disneyland travel tips for adults. When not at Disneyland, you can find Mindy at home snuggling with her cats and re-watching Thor: Ragnarok for the billionth time.