‘Queen of Katwe’ Sends a Powerful Message About Changing Our Destiny

The Disney film is based on the real-life story of 10-year-old chess phenom Phiona Mutesi.
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Sep 26, 2016·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

“Sometimes the place we’re used to is not the place you belong,” says chess teacher Robert Katende to his prodigy Phiona Mutesi in the upcoming film Queen of Katwe. “You belong where you believe you belong. Where is that for you?”

It’s a poignant scene acted with great sincerity by the film’s stars, David Oyelowo and newcomer Madina Nalwanga. Oyelowo, as Katende, pushes his student to get out of her own head and believe she deserves more than the penurious slum life she knows so well. The film serves as both inspiration and a reminder that it is possible to fight back against being a product of one’s environment and change one’s destiny.

For Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who sells corn on the streets of her rural town of Katwe to help support her family, which includes her single mother (played by Lupita N’yongo), a sister, and two brothers, chess plays an integral part in changing her fate. As Mutesi’s classmate informs her during an early lesson, “In chess, the small one can become the big one.” This isn’t just a bit of helpful advice—it’s a message of hope for Mutesi, who undoubtedly feels she will forever be “the small one” in the ghetto into which she was born. It’s a message of hope for all of us who have ever felt stuck in our lives.

Like any story worth telling, Mutesi’s journey from corn hawker to chess master isn’t without its bumps and downright perilous moments. Any ordinary 9-year-old might balk at the first sign of failure, but Mutesi’s steadfast desire to create a better life for herself and her loved ones wins. Mutesi and her beloved game of chess prove that the smallest of moves can make a huge difference.

Queen of Katwe opens in theaters on Sept. 30.