The excellent new feel-good movie “Queen of Katwe” took me back to my 14 months in Uganda six years ago and had me in tears of joy. It’s based on a true story about a young illiterate girl, Phiona Mutesi, who learns to play chess and rises to become an international champion.
Phiona is played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, and also stars David Oyelwo (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”) as her chess coach, Robert Katende, and Lupita Nyong’o (Patsy in “12 Years a Slave”) as her protective, widowed mother, Harriett Nakku.
It takes place in Katwe, a slum in Kampala. During my six months in the Ugandan capital I often drove through parts of Katwe but never stopped. In the movie, Harriett and her four kids are evicted from a hovel for failure to pay rent of $5.
I lived not so far away in a new, walled apartment complex in a three-bedroom suite for $350 a month on Movit Road, named after the Movit factory on the road that makes skin lightening cream. On Nyong’o’s Wiki page, she tells about getting a letter from a little girl in Africa that said, ” I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
The movie reminded me of my own short-lived career as a chess champion. When I was in Grade 8 in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, my dad taught me to play chess and within months I won my junior high school championship. Soon after I went to Parksville on Vancouver Island to play in the B.C. Boys’ Chess Championships. I lost every game except one, when I successfully begged my opponent to let me have a draw. Nobody’s bidding for the rights to that movie.