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Queen of Katwe

Most people in the world are not accustomed to the luxuries we have in the United States of America; therefore, I knew I had to choose a movie that most people in the world could relate to. Last year, I was privileged to spend my entire summer in Uganda, learning the culture, language, and overall lifestyle. Not many people have the opportunity to leave their whole life behind to do something completely different and help change a community, even if it is only for a summer. After spending my time befriending the amazing, passionate people of Uganda, you could imagine my excitement when Disney announced they were producing a movie based on a true story about a girl in Uganda! Better yet, she was from Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that I had spent many weekends adventuring.

Queen of Katwe depicts similar to real life for most people in the world. Phiona Mutesi is a young girl forced to drop out of school to sell maize in a taxi park to help pay for her family’s life in a slum called Katwe. In one of the opening scenes, Phiona’s mother tells her she must make 1,000 shillings for the day, which is equivalent of 0.28 cents in US dollars. One afternoon, she decides to follow her brother who disappears every day in the middle of selling maize; she finds out that he was sneaking off to learn chess. This one small decision set her on a course that changed the rest of her life, which includes being the first titled female chess player in Uganda.

This movie needs to be watched by everyone because it shows that any person in any place or situation has the chance to achieve a dream. Dropping out of school, not being able to bathe or sleeping on a floor are not reasons to give up on a dream and submit to the life you were born into. However, dreams do not come easy. We must work hard and struggle, be persistent and fail a few times until success is finally achieved. We must also always be humble in our achievements, honest in our failures, and willing to learn from others in all circumstances.

In one specific scene the chess teacher, Robert Katende, teaches the children that life will always have obstacles using a chess metaphor. He places a bishop on one square and other pieces on various squares around the board. At first, the bishop looks as though it has been defeated, but one of the children finally figures out the one square where the bishop is safe. “When you first looked at this position, perhaps you thought there was no safe haven for bishop but you looked closely, you analyzed the threats, and you made a plan and bishop found safety. Use your minds, follow your plans, and you will all find safe squares.”

Throughout the movie, Phiona repeats that she is a fighter. She fights to be taken seriously as a girl. She fights for her right to education. She fights to escape the poverty she was born in. She fights to keep her family together. She fights to stay away from her destiny of marrying young and becoming a teen mother. Fighting is one of the main themes of this movie. Without fighting, she would never have become the great chess player she is today. You must fight for your dreams and the life you dream of living. Anything short of fighting every day and meeting every obstacle head on will not change your destiny.

Another reiterated aspect of this movie is that stereotypes need to be broken. Phiona is an aggressive girl and the boys often complain about being beat by a girl. Her mom does everything possible to provide for her family without having to give into the typical women’s career of prostitution. Robert’s wife is the breadwinner in the family so he can continue his chess ministry. He also emphasizes the importance of strategy games over physical sports. Nothing in this movie follows the typical norms expected about someone climbing the ladder of success. Not only does Phiona overcome several challenges in real life to achieve her dream, having a movie about her life story overcomes several expectations in the movie industry about what is defined as success.

The best way to describe this inspiring movie is the way Phiona learns how a pawn can become a queen, “in chess, the small one can become the big one.” Regardless of our wealth, education, or family, we should all strive to be like Phiona Mutesi, truly a Queen of Katwe.

 

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