There's a fascinating subset of inspirational sports and competition films coming out of Walt Disney Studios that successfully blend cultural issues with offbeat sporting events, from the cross-country running of McFarland, USA to the baseball-by-way-of-cricket stylings of Million Dollar Arm. These films use unconventional games to pull back the curtain on contemporary life lessons facing citizens of various cultures, and the outstanding practice continues this month when Disney releases Mira Nair's chess drama, Queen of Katwe.
Based on an actual story, Queen of Katwe follows African teenager Phiona Mutesi as she picks up the game of chess and uses her innate ability to dominate in the game to lift her out of a difficult home life in Uganda. Mira Nair filmed Katwe on location in Uganda, capturing the vibrancy of the native African culture, and tapped Hollywood A-listers David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o to help her tell this uplifting tale. But because the movie swirls around young people taking a chance on the game of chess, I asked the cast what advice they would give any young children coming out of a Queen of Katwe screening and wanting to investigate further the intricacies of the timeless game. Oyelowo told me:
David Oyelowo also says that working on Queen of Katwe did indeed inspire him to sharpen his own skills at the game of chess himself, but that unlike Phiona, he never was able to predict a game eight moves ahead of an opponent. He tells me, with a laugh:
Thankfully, as part of the promotional push at the Toronto International Film Festival -- where the movie held its World Premiere -- Disney brought the real Phiona Mutesi and her chess coach, Robert Katende, to speak with select journalists, and I was able to ask them directly what advice they'd give to young players curious about taking up chess. First, Phiona told me:
Backing up his student's advice, Robert Katende told me:
And that's not just in chess. That's in everything. Here's video of the Katwe cast giving advice to young ones.
Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe opens in limited release on September 23, before going wider on September 30.