The Queen of Katwe


The movie “The Queen of Katwe” is a multifaceted jewel that sparkles in so many directions as to leave one breathless.  On its face, it is the true to life biography of the first International Chess Grandmaster of Uganda, of all places.  But this is simply the backdrop for a tale which becomes very much more.


It is a story of the international world of chess spanning continents, the story of an explosion of unifying national pride, the story of a primitive neighborhood existing on the fringes of modernity, the story of heroic aid workers making real differences at no little personal sacrifice, the story of one extraordinary family’s struggle to live decently, and last but by no means least, the story of a beautiful and gifted young lady striving to come of age.


Unlike a lot of Hollywood trash which exploits a hazy sense of racial injustice to deliver a feel-good but transient and ineffectual outrage over evil forces exploiting noble savages, this production refreshingly breaks that mold.  Rather the main characters are portrayed as compromised individuals with all the foibles common to the human condition everywhere, albeit in an unusual venue.   


This is a gritty production that doesn’t pull any punches nor attempt to glibly imbue the downtrodden with an unearned and undeserved sense of respect.  Instead it painstakingly extols the benefits of hard work, of ingenuity in overcoming the impediments of utter poverty, and of moral principles which can unerringly be found in any honest examination of conscience.


On another level this movie is at heart a love story, to wit a dramatization of the dedication of enterprising teachers, of the intelligent sacrifice of a mother for her family, and especially of the joy of a singularly talented young girl for life itself, notwithstanding frequent heartbreaks.   Personally one of my favorite scenes is a bittersweet vignette in which a disheveled chess team tunelessly renders the all too forgettable Ugandan national anthem in the dead of a Russian winter but with all the enthusiasm and solidarity and team spirit any coach could wish for.


This is by far an outstanding movie and a must-see for anyone with the slightest interest in the wondrous things people of all bents and complexions and circumstances can accomplish.