Queen of Katwe - Checkmate
| Mira Nair's beautiful film Queen of Katwe is lovely to look at, even at moments when you want to look away. But the real strength of the movie are the little touches. She focuses her story on a strong young woman, played with quiet strength by Madina Nalwanga, and it is that quietness, which encapsulates so much. So while Nair manages to bring the rich colours and vitality of the Katwe slums into vivid life, it is the way she shows us Phiona, her vitality, and the vitality of her family, which makes Queen of Katwe such a rich film.
As the credits roll (I know, weird place to start) it comes into focus just how well Nair has paid tribute to her film's subjects. She pairs the actors with their real life counterparts and it becomes clear just how real this story is. The story of extreme poverty, of the impossibility of pulling oneself out of poverty. Nair doesn't sugarcoat much. The reality of Phiona's life isn't romanticized. She gets to be a real person, such a thing is often denied movie heroes. Nair's greatest gift is remaining honest to that.
There is a lovely moment near the beginning as Phiona is learning the game, where the crowd of her fellow students is watching her play and it's only the boys who are talking. The girls sit back watching. So does Phiona. It is little touches like this which imbue the film with the sense of honesty that is often missing in biopics.
The centre of the film is Lupita Nyong'o as Phiona's mother, showing us, once again, that her Oscar win was no fluke. She is mesmerizing in every frame, juggling multiple emotions struggles constantly. It is her joy at the end of the film which is the most inspiring. One cannot be unmoved watching her performance.
Queen of Katwe is a remarkable little film, which could have easily felt manipulative or corny. Instead, by remaining vigilant in its honesty, it is is true triumph.