Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Monsoon Wedding), Queen of Katwe was released last September to little fanfare and then quietly bowed out of theatres shortly thereafter. Now on Blu-ray+Digital HD, the exhilarating sports movie released by Disney deserves a second chance.
Faithfully adapted from an ESPN-published magazine article turned book by Tim Crothers, Queen of Katwe tells the true story of 10 year-old Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga) who through sheer dogged determination and innate intelligence became one of the youngest female chess champions in Africa.
Having lived in Uganda for twenty-plus years, director Nair never shies away from showing the realistic hardships faced by the Kampala locals in one of the harshest slums in the world. Prostitution, starvation and a palpable sense of hopelessness are all nakedly portrayed in the film, which could have easily been Disney-fied in the hands of another director. The film isn’t entirely seeped in misery and despair, however. Nair also shows the vibrancy and beauty of daily life in Katwe, seen most prominently in the dynamic colors of the costumes (by Mobolaji Dawodu) and the gorgeous cinematography by Sean Bobbitt (who previously worked on Steve McQueen and Derek Cianfrance’s films).
Before the production on the movie began, director Mira Nair filmed a brief, 13-minute short documenting the story of Robert Katende (played in the film by David Oyelowo) and his chess teaching program (where Phiona learned how to play chess). The Blu-ray disc has that special short film, named A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight, and you can watch it in its entirety to learn more about the transformative teacher.
The highlight of all the special features is the feature-length audio commentary by Mira Nair. She passionately talks about the people of Katwe and the making of the film and she’s so engrossing to listen to that the film just flies by.
Overall Brief Take
Even if you know nothing about chess, Queen of Katwe is an inspiring sports film and should be required viewing for all young girls.
Queen of Katwe is currently available on Blu-ray+Digital HD and DVD.