Mira Nair Gives Hollywood A Black Canvas With ‘Queen Of Katwe’

Master storyteller Mira Nair gives Hollywood its first all black movie with ‘Queen Of Katwe’. 

Updated
Entertainment
3 min read
Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo in a scene from <i>Queen Of Katwe.</i> (Photo courtesy: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/DisneyStudios">@<b>DisneyStudios</b></a>)

Mira Nair’s Queen Of Katwe echoes the thought behind MS Dhoni: The Untold Story- ‘you can do big things even if you’re from a small place’. The trailer of this Disney production is a touching story of a young girl’s journey from selling corn on the streets of Katwe, Uganda to becoming an international chess champion. Mira Nair brings her signature Monsoon Wedding and Namesake flair to tell another sensitive story, but this time on an African canvas.

The film is based on the life and achievements of Phiona Mutesi, a young chess prodigy who emerged from a slum in Uganda and makes it big in the world. Interestingly, Madina Nalwanga, who plays Phiona on screen, has actually lived the hardships of her character’s life. Being a teenager from Kampala, a Ugandan slum, she was already half her on-screen character when she was chosen for auditions. Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong'o plays her mother in the Mira Nair film.

The prop master had to figure out how she (the character) would hold the basket of corn on her head, and he had all this fancy stuff he had done. But Madina walked in and had sold corn for years. She knew how to put it on, how to bathe with half an inch of water. You can’t teach or direct that convincingly. It’s wonderful to be able to know the truth and then get it all aspects of it.
Mira Nair, Filmmaker (as reported by Indiewire)
What I love about Madina is that she shares that fierce, fierce determination with Phiona of finishing her education. Phiona didn’t come to our set because she was in school. That kind of fierce, fierce determination — these are lives that are still very much being formed. This is Phiona’s history and she has a complete future ahead of her and she knows she has to work to get to where she wants to get to. And I think Madina understands that, too. In fact, she’s been lamenting about not having enough time to study, and I really admire that and encourage that in her.
Lupita Nyong’o, Actress (as reported by NPR)

Mira Nair was the perfect choice to helm the film since she’s lived in the Ugandan capital of Kampala for 27 years. This is as real as storytelling gets. Like her character, Phiona, Nalwanga grew up struggling for basic things, like education. There’s more reason to celebrate. This is the first time a mainstream studio like Disney is making a movie with Africa as a backdrop and all black actors.

William Wheeler (The Hoax) has written the film’s screenplay based on Tim Crothers’ book by the same title. Nair has a different take on the story which is what sets the film apart from the usual rags to riches narrative.

It takes a coach who sees the mettle and the intelligence in this girl Phiona. It takes her mother who doesn’t want her child to dream because she will be disappointed, then she is brought by her child’s own determination and skill around to the fact that maybe this is possible for her, she’ll do anything, sacrifice her own promise of womanhood, to make sure Phiona is on her way. It’s not just one person’s ascent, it can’t be, it’s a community.
Mira Nair (as reported by Indiewire)

Queen Of Katwe is also a story of Hollywood opening up to real stories and colour. And Nair feels at home telling the story of an unconventional African queen.

This has been by far the most positive experience [in Hollywood]. They have respected and embraced and accepted the maverick. I am most at home being allowed to do what I do: ‘Monsoon Wedding,’ ‘The Namesake,’ ‘Mississippi Masala.’ I am ‘Queen of Katwe’. These worlds I know how to tell in a way that no one else can tell, if you let me. I like to create an environment where no one needs to allow me. I can do it myself.
Mira Nair (as reported by Indiewire)

The film hits theatres in India on 7 October and released across 1300 screens in the US on 30 September.

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