Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Queen of Katwe (5 Stars)

"Queen of Katwe" is a Walt Disney film. We know what Disney films are about, don't we? They're about fantasy stories and fairy tales, usually involving children. In that respect this is a typical Disney film. It's about a 10-year-old girl whose family lives in poverty. She can't read or write and she has to sell maize in the street, but within a few years she becomes rich and famous.

What's unypical about this Disney film is that the story is true. It really happened. It's not even a true story from the Middle Ages. The story started in 2006 in Katwe, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.

Let me digress for a moment. Very few things make me angry, but one of them is the picture of illiterate children being forced to work to support their family. Any government that allows this to happen doesn't deserve to exist. The government should be overthrown by force, by foreign powers if necessary, and replaced by rulers who offer education to every child in the country regardless of his parents' wealth or social status.

Education is a right, not a privilege. Poverty isn't always the reason for a lack of education. More commonly it's the uneven distribution of wealth. Nigeria is supposedly a rich country because of its oil exports, but recent statistics claim that 64% of the population have never been to school, making it the world's most primitive country. The country's wealth is hoarded by families in Lagos and a few other large cities. The rest of the country is left to rot.

Phiona Mutesi was born in 1996, and she's the third of five children. Her father and her oldest sister died of AIDS. In 2006 she began to visit a missionary centre because the children were given a cup of porridge. When there she was taught how to play chess. Despite never having had a school education she had a natural aptitude for chess. Her skill was recognised, so money was collected to send her to chess tournaments in Sudan and Russia. In parallel she was taught how to read and write by a private tutor, then sent to a school with the fees paid by the Christian mission. By 2012 she had earned enough money to buy her mother a house.

This is a fairy tale. This is miraculous. Of course, it couldn't happen to everyone. Phiona Mutesi was a highly intelligent child, and when she was given a lucky break she grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The film was made in 2016, only four years after the final events in the story. It's unusual for a biographical film to be made so soon after the events on which it's based. This made it possible for the film to be accurate, because the characters portrayed could supervise the film themselves. Here we see the real Phiona Mutesi alongside Madina Nalwanga who played her in the film. Phiona is 20, Madina is 16.

This is Phiona's mother Nakku Harriet alongside the actress who portrayed her, Lupita Nyong'o.

And this is the missionary Robert Katende alongside David Oyelowo who portrays him.

The film is so uplifting in the way it shows Phiona's success, but it's also heartbreaking to see the many other children who will never have the chance that she had. Can anyone watch "Queen of Katwe" without being deeply moved?

A lot of fuss has been made about "Black Panther" as a film showing black empowerment. It's definitely a good film, but "Queen of Katwe" is better. The acting and cinematography are perfect, but what makes it so powerful is that it's all true. Isn't it strange that it still hasn't been released outside of America?

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