Chess is not just a game ...
.... At least not for Phiona Mutesi. For her, the game she discovered as a nine-year-old growing up in the Ugandan slums of Kampala is a source of joy; a provider of money and food and, therefore, life; a means by which she rose far above her circumstances; and a metaphor for the story her life tells: "in chess, the small one can become the big one".
Directed by Mira Nair and staring David Ovelowo, Lupita Nvong'o and Madina Nalwanga, Disney's Queen of Katwe recounts how Phiona stumbled into a chess class and watched her life take off.
Phiona Mutesi calls Katwe home. Her father passed away when she was three. She dropped out of school when she was six because her mother could no longer afford her school fees. They live on the streets.
For Phiona, this life is her past, present, and future. Selling corn. Eating when she can. She is one of thousands, tens of thousands, scrambling to survive.
Then Phiona and her brother discover a chess club, led by Robert Katende. There, other kids from Katwe find a little diversion from their bleak, day-to-day scrap of existence. Maybe even a little fun.
She was after the free porridge Robert served to bribe the kids into coming, but soon there was no need to bribe Phiona anymore.
"When I first saw chess, I thought, 'What could make all these kids so silent?'" the queen herself remembers. "Then I watched them play the game and get happy and excited, and I wanted a chance to be that happy."
She learned that if a pawn could make it to the end of the board, that piece could be exchanged for another. "In chess, the small one can become the big one," someone explained to her. "That's why I like it."
Phiona was never supposed to accomplish anything.
"The most important thing women do in the slums," she says, "is to produce kids and that's all. That's the most they do.
"Before I had started playing chess, I was just thinking, 'How can I get through this day?' That's the hope I had."
She wanted more. She still does. "My goal in chess is to become a grandmaster," she smiles. "My goal in life is to be a doctor."
In this inspiring film we watch a real-life pawn— a child from one of the dingiest corners of Katwe—use her prodigious chess talents to reach the end of the board.
Queen of Katwe screened in Australian cinemas in December 2016.•