I’m going to save my opinion on 2016 and African-American movies for The Birth of a Nation (as I really want to talk about them), because there are so many morals and themes in Queen of Katwe that will take up enough of your precious reading time. Let the review begin.
Queen of Katwe is directed by Mira Nair and written by William Wheeler. Stars-Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and Madina Nalwanga. Premise-A young Ugandan girl (Nalwanga) learns how to play chess in the slums of her town. When her teacher (Oyelowo) notices her natural skills, he plans to train her to become one of the best chess players in the world, but her mother (Nyong’o) is not as supportive.
I’ve said before that Disney sucks at live-action, writing parents, and remakes. What I consider to be the magnum opus of bland, dated, clichéd, Disney live-action is The Mighty Ducks trilogy. Those movies aren’t the worst thing that Disney has made live-action wise (they are harmless films), but it didn’t give me any confidence that sports was a genre Disney could do competently. Then they released McFarland USA in 2015, and Queen of Katwe a year later. Both of these films dealt with racial issues with compelling performances and down-to-earth drama. In McFarland USA, it was a white man in a Hispanic culture. Queen of Katwe is not preachy in any way. The problem is not racism, it is pride and arrogance. This change of pace is very refreshing, and it gives us an insight to the life of a poor African lifestyle.
On a filmmaking level, it is a mixed bag. The music is original, and sounds authentic, but there are many more problems with the production than there should be. It could be because I just rewatched Slumdog Millionaire, but the camerawork in Queen of Katwe is very poor. The camera is often close to the ground/too close up. There are also some very obvious audio quality shifts. There may have been some post-production dubbing because the sound will randomly change. These are issues that (while noticeable) are not deal-breaking.
By now, you’ve heard every critic praise Lupita Nyong’o’s performance. Time to jump on the bandwagon! In all seriousness, this movie reminded audiences of a serious problem, Lupita is too good of an actress to be given so little work in Hollywood! After her Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, she went on to play a flight attendant with no character in Non-Stop, and voiced a CGI yellow alien in The Force Awakens. Thank God she persisted in her career, because her role as the mother in this movie is astounding. She delivers the emotion, intensity, attention, love, passion, attitude, determination, concern, and likability of a real life single mother without fault. When I came back from the theater, I hugged my mom with newfound appreciation. On the surface, Queen of Katwe is a sports drama, but the real commentary and theme of the film (at least from my deductions) is moms. If the real Nakku Harriet is anything like the Lupita’s portrayal, then she is the real MVP. This movie is worth watching purely for Lupita’s acting and to witness the incredible sacrifices and love she displays. She has to take care of three kids, a rebellious teenager, and pay the rent. Not every single parent is like this, but I have untold amounts of respect for Harriet and those like her.
It is a bit of a shame that this movie is focused on the chess part of Phiona Mutesi’s (the girl) life because her mother is more interesting, and a better subject. I don’t think it’s that bad, the actual sports part of this sports movie is good enough. I think chess is one of the most boring activities ever created by man (no offense to chess-lovers), but if you could make a movie about the 2007 housing crisis funny and entertaining, anything is possible. The story is about as predictable as the original Karate Kid, but it has just as much charm. David Oyelowo provides a kind-hearted moral center, and the child ensemble is very likable. When you get to the climax, know this, it would be a cliché if she wins or loses. There have been so many underdog sports stories, I have accepted that winning/losing are equally predictable.
Queen of Katwe is not as well-written as Southside with You, nor as charming as Barbershop 3, but I think that it is well deserving of a view. Sorry if I came across as preachy or sounded like I was gushing; we are studying race and ethnicity in my Sociology class this week (things don’t get very boring in that class!). Queen of Katwe gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.