I was surprised that this was a Disney film. I’m pretty sure the last time audiences saw a Disney cast dominated by black actors was THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009). I… have no idea why that impresses me so much. We should be in a place in film-making society where seeing this shouldn’t be mind-blowing, but it kind of is. Especially for Disney. And live-action, based on a true story, this should be a bigger movie than it is. Or… maybe not? Would that be equally annoying to the black community? Ugh, I’m gonna stop before I accidentally pick a fight.
So lets take a gander at the star power. The film stars the freshest of fresh talent, Madina Nalwanga, as famed Ugandan chess player, Phiona Mutesi. This is her first film credit, so congrats, girl. Co-starring are a couple of big names. One of them being David Oyelowo. This rising heavy-weight is known for his incredible work in SELMA (2014), as well as films like LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER (2013), and TV show STAR WARS REBELS. Of course, let’s not forget the award winning Lupita Nyong’o, one of the more popular fresh faces today thanks to her turn in 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013), STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), and THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Mira Nair, a fairly versatile director ranging from directing segments of compiled short films, documentaries, but has done a few movies that I think a few people might recognize, such as AMELIA (2009), THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST (2012), and VANITY FAIR (2004). Penning the script is William Wheeler. He hasn’t done a whole lot, but the few projects he’s done you might have heard of. He previously worked with Nair, writing THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, as well as THE HOAX (2006), but he’s also written a few episodes of TV shows RAY DONOVAN and THE CAPE. Finally, the cinematographer is Sean Bobbitt. He previously worked on ROCK THE KASBAH (2015), 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2012), and THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012).
With some pretty exciting names attached and some promising new talent thrown in the mix, I was going in pretty optimistic. Maybe not hyped, but it’s a Disney film. It’s been awhile since they’ve done awful work and this doesn’t look bad at all. Lets get this show on the road; this is my honest opinion of Disney’s QUEEN OF KATWE.
Based on true events taking place in Katwe, Uganda in 2011 through 2014. Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) lives in the slums with her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’O). Her older sister abandons the family to live a life more suited to her with her boyfriend, leaving her to look after her two younger brothers. Elsewhere, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), in his own way, starts up a kind of chess club for the local kids, eventually catching the curiosity of Phiona, who soon becomes one of the best chess players in the group. As a little time goes on, Robert sees how talented his students become and decides to enter them in a school competition, where Phiona comes in first. Soon, it’s revealed that she’s not just good, but might be a prodigy and have potential to be a grand master of the game.
Before I get into this, I want to express a strange little epiphany I had this afternoon. As any guy with an opinion on movies would, I took some time really think about it and how I felt about the movie. I didn’t think it was great. It was good, but as I write this review, it took a lot of effort to my words down. Why? Because it feels weird to pass any sort of judgment on a person’s life. “This story is unoriginal; I’ve seen it before.” Well, a lot of lives can’t have similar backgrounds. Yes, the generalization of Phiona Mutesi’s life is similar to many stories out there. Star Wars comes to mind. A kid growing up a hard and unfulfilled life who wants more out of it meets a wise teacher who convinces them that they are meant for great things, and by the end of the story, they become great people. Yes, I am comparing Phiona Mutesi to Luke Skywalker. But while the parallels are amusing, Phiona and Luke are very different people. Chief among those differences: Phiona is a real person. She exists out there. I can shake her hand, sit down and drink coffee with her and have a conversation about stuff. Luke is a fictional man in a fictional world. That’s why it might be easy to talk about, geek over, and criticize Star Wars about its story elements that may or may not make sense because this is a story that never happened. Phiona’s story is. So I can’t talk about it the same way that I can with Star Wars. If I have a problem with how possibly formulaic it is, then I feel like I’m calling her up directly and telling her that she’s not as important or as exciting because “I’ve seen it before.” I haven’t the right to say that and expect my credibility as a “nice guy” to remain intact.
The only thing that matters to me, especially in this case, is whether or not the story presented is an accurate and respectful portrayal of Phiona’s life. Are the events that we see unfold basically her memories brought to life by these actors, or is it a gross fictionalization of a woman who deserved more respect than Hollywood was capable of giving?
Phiona has spoken. That’s her life. That’s really her life. Maybe a couple creative liberties here or there, but this is accurate according the woman herself.
So… now what? Can I shift gears back to being an amateur film critic? My answer: nope. Personally, I’m just going to comment on Phiona’s life. Phiona, I am so happy that things ultimately worked out for you. I’m sure your life is still full of hardship and complications, but I am glad that the worst is behind you (I hope…). I’m happy that you are going to school and that you are still going up in life. I’m sorry you had to go through all that you had to, but I’m glad you came out stronger for it. Robert Katende, thank you for playing such an important role in her life to bring her where she is now and being an equally influential figure to more kids. You’re a true inspiration to teachers everywhere and I hope you continue to influence many more young lives in the same capacity. Nakku Harriett, thank you for being a testament to mothers everywhere who put everything on the line for the dreams of their children and having it pay off in the most glorious of ways… because God help that child if she ended up being a bum with no work ethic and so entitled that a Kardashian would be telling her to be thankful for what she had. She probably doesn’t even know who they are and bless her heart (and sanity) for it.
I know this isn’t how I’ve conducted my reviews of stories based on true events before, and I’m sorry for that. But I do hope that I acknowledge in those reviews how the truth of the story is paramount to the entertainment value. I can tell that this movie had a lot of passion put into it. None of it was filmed in a studio and everyone seemed to really care about the story they were bringing to the general masses, so I definitely respect this movie and I hope to keep this same formula moving forward to keep things honest and fair, really earn my namesake.
Knowing that this has Phiona Mutesi’s seal of approval, I do highly recommend this movie. Not only is it an inspiring story about a young teen girl who discovers that she is more than what her society dictated her to be, but the acting is phenomenal, and I do recommend it. I’m sure glad I saw it and I think everyone else will be to.
Disney’s QUEEN OF KATWE: recommended. Go see it.
Sorry for the tardiness on this review, and because I skipped out on seeing any new movies tonight (personal issues), I might be late on this weeks reviews too, if only because there’s like five new films. But, it’s going to be a big week, so keep an eye out for when I release them.
Upcoming films: 9/29/2016 – 10/6/2016
- DEEPWATER HORIZON
- MISS PEREGRINES HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAdpJw-MM-M
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYcx43AmAyY
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIkzuXDhCcQ
- AMERICAN HONEY
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1SpWZm1PLc
Upcoming films: 10/6/2016 – 10/13/2016
- THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkoEE1i0CX8
- MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE
- trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQtjPUyS6ZY
- THE BIRTH OF A NATION