The Queen of Katwe Filming to Begin Soon | From Pawn to Chess Queen – Mutesi’s Story Goes to Hollywood

Posted March 28, 2015 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Movies ~ 5,871 views


 Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o and renown director from Mississippi Masala Mira Nair who will also direct Queen of Katwe in Kampala recently.

Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o and renown director from Mississippi Masala Mira Nair who will also direct Queen of Katwe in Kampala recently.

Chess has transformed the life of an African slum girl and her triumphant story is to be made into a movie soon.

The Star — Phiona Mutesi discovered chess as a famished nine-year-old foraging for food in the sprawling and impoverished slums of the Ugandan capital. Now about 18 years old and a chess champion who competes internationally, her tale of triumph over adversity is being turned into a Hollywood epic with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o tipped to play her mother.

“My dad had died, and after that we found it harder to make ends mee. We struggled to get food … my mum was not working,” Mutesi said. They lived on one meal a day.

She was forced to drop out of school when she was only six as her mother could not pay the fees. One day, Mutesi discovered a chess programme held in a church in the Katwe slum district in the Ugandan capitala of Kampala. Potential players were enticed with a free cup of porridge, and Mutesi began organising her days around this.

“It was so interesting,” she recalled of her introduction to pawns, rooks, bishops, knights and kings in 2005.

“But I didn’t go there for chess, I went just to get a meal.”

As she returned week after week, something unexpected happened that would transform Mutesi’s life. The girl developed a talent for chess, which was only introduced in Uganda in the 1970s by foreign doctors and was still seen as a game played by the rich. And her talent turned into a passion.

“I like chess because it involves planning,” said Mutesi. “If you don’t plan, you will end up with your life so bad.”

The film, entitled Queen of Katwe, is based on a book of the same name about Mutesi by American writer Tim Crothers. It is to be shot in Uganda and South Africa, directed by Mira Nair.

Filming will reportedly begin later this month. Coach and mentor Robert Katende, of the Sports Outreach Ministry, remembers Mutesi wearing “dirty torn clothes” when he met her a decade ago.

“She was really desperate for survival,” said Katende, who is building a chess academy to take in 150 students outside Kampala.


Incredible rise

Two years into the game, Mutesi became Uganda’s national women’s junior champion.

“Phiona Mutesi has flourished,” said Vianney Luggya, president of the Uganda Chess Federation.

“She made history in the schools’ competition by becoming the first girl to compete in the boys’ category. It was a big surprise.”

She then participated in her first international competition in the Africa’s International Children’s Chess Tournament in South Sudan in 2009.

“It was really wonderful because it was my first time abroad,” she said.

It was the first time she slept in a hotel and she came back with a trophy.

Since then, Mutesi has competed in chess Olympiads in Siberia, in Turkey — after which she was given the Woman Candidate Master ranking by FIDE, the World Chess Federation – and in Norway last year.

The teenager, who has two more years of high school left, hopes to go to the next Olympiad in 2016 in Azerbaijan.

Mutesi has also played against her hero, Russian former world champion and Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and inspired school students in the United States to start a tournament in her name.

Back home, her fame has had “an incredible impact”, said Luggya.

“The number of female players participating in national chess championships has doubled,” he said, adding that each of the 26 schools set to compete in Uganda’s annual championships in April will have girls and boys teams.

Uganda’s female players have also been spurred on by the success of Ivy Amoko, who became east Africa’s first FIDE Master last year. A recent week-long chess clinic, involving Mutesi, attracted more than 200 participants, most of them female, from Kampala slums and surrounding communities.

British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo — nominated for a Gold Globe Award for his portrayal of Martin Luther King in the 2014 dram Selma – is also set to star in Queen of Katwe.

Luggya hopes the film will “open doors” for all players in Uganda, saying: “I think Ugandans realise that it is a brain game that can enhance their potential in all other aspects of life.”

Though the country now has east Africa’s only International Master, Elijah Emojong, and the region’s biggest number of titled players, Uganda still struggles with kit and trainers – normally volunteers – plus sponsorship for overseas titles.

Mutesi is aware this may hold her back ultimately. But while her goal is to rise to Grandmaster, she also hopes to become a paediatrician and open a home for children, especially girls facing the same predicament she overcame.

“Girls are always ‘under-looked’ even in chess,” said Mutesi. “But I don’t think there’s any reason why a girl cannot beat a boy. It comes from believing in yourself.” – AFP

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.



    What a heart warming story! I think I like mutesi very much. Good on you miss M! Your life was written in the stars


    What a beautiful story of inspiration, and the Christian organization that provided the food and chess opportunity. All the best realizing your dreams. You will make a fine pediatrician. Godspeed!

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