After bravely battling brain cancer since 2016, Queen of Katwe actor Nikita Pearl Waligwa has died at the age of 15. The young woman who played real-life chess prodigy Gloria Nansubuga, friend to the film’s protagonist and fellow prodigy Phiona Mutesi, in the 2016 Disney biopic was reported to have passed away this weekend, due to complications from a brain tumor. prompting tributes from her co-stars.
Waligwa’s passing prompted condolences from her co-stars, as David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o offered tributes in her memory through social media. Oyelowo’s tribute went as follows:
Using an inspirational quote from Queen of Katwe’s own dialogue is perhaps the best tribute that could be paid to Nikita Pearl Waligwa’s legacy as a young actor. Not only is the sentiment key to the film’s actual message, but it’s also more poignant when you realize that this is the only film that Waligwa would ever star in.
David Oyelowo played the role of missionary/chess teacher Robert Katande, the man who would shepherd the chess skills of Waligwa’s character Gloria Nansubuga, as well as Queen of Katwe’s functional protagonist, Phiona Mutesi, who was played by Madina Nalwanga.
It is with great sadness that I post about the passing of Nikita Waligwa, the sweet, warm, talented girl whom I worked with on the film, Queen Of Katwe. She played Gloria with such vibrancy. In her real life she had the enormous challenge of battling brain cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and community as they come to terms with having to say goodbye so soon. May she truly rest in peace. May it be well with her soul.
Nikita Pearl Waligwa had been undergoing treatment since her initial diagnosis, thanks to the efforts being put forth by her Queen of Katwe director Mira Nair. As the BBC report of Nikita’s passing recalls, doctors in the young actor’s home country of Uganda stated they did not have the tools to address her medical concerns.
But thanks to Nair’s call for assistance, Waligwa was treated in India, and in 2017 she was cleared to go back to school. Unfortunately, after being diagnosed with another brain tumor last year, Nikita’s health declined, eventually leading to her passing this past Saturday.
Perhaps the most fitting, and also most upsetting remarks made after Nikita Pearl Waligwa’s passing came from none other than Gloria Nansubuga herself, as she remembered Nikita thusly:
I couldn't bear to hear that someone who acted as me in a film had died. I loved her from my heart. She told me she wanted to learn how to play chess. I wanted to have lessons with her but she was always in hospital. She was so caring even though she was so young.
We here at CinemaBlend would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Nikita Pearl Waligwa in this difficult time. Queen of Katwe is currently available on home video, as well as Disney+.