Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: Queen of Katwe
By Andrea Thompson
Inspirational stories are the lifeblood of the Disney veins. But some stories are just so unique, and the talent involved so damn amazing, that even the most cynical of hearts get the feels. So it is with “Queen of Katwe,” which is about a Ugandan girl named Phiona (the spectacular Madina Nalwanga) whose world changes rapidly when she is introduced to the game of chess. She quickly discovers she is a prodigy, and starts competing around the world. This is still Disney, so her journey is filled with many of the usual clichés, but Nalwanga's performance, bolstered by a supporting cast that includes David Oyelowo as her teacher, and Lupita Nyong'o as her formidable mother, almost makes you forget you've seen them before. Then there are the locations, which are realistic without being exploitative, and gritty without being depressing. So the people come across as actual people, rather than cardboard cutouts, and the movie does them justice. Phiona's journey takes her throughout Uganda before she travels the world, and her impoverished background means even other Ugandans look down on her. The ending slightly fizzles, but director Mira Nair's sure, guiding hand, her excellent cast, and the power of the story itself never fails to inspire.