Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Disney Takes a Giant Leap of Faith With "Queen of Katwe"

Queen of Katwe film poster has that The Lion King vibe.
 "This just isn't a game, it is a way out."
Queen of Katwe paints marvelous touches on desires to become bigger than improbable circumstances. On the canvas, set in Uganda, Phiona Mutesi, a young, intelligent Ugandan girl selling maize alongside her little brother to make desperate ends meet, leads this engaging biopic. Uniquely enough, showcasing continent from within, hardships and strife hold hands with love and joy, rarely seen in an African based film.

Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o) and her daughter Phiona (Madina Nalwanga).
After her brother speaks of Robert Katende, an educated happily married man, showing village children something new and exciting at the community center, Phiona comes along, immediately curious and drawn to activity of chess. She quickly picks up the challenging game, emerging from beginner to novice quite fast.  Her low-spirited shyness dissolves as building confidence takes place. Of course, Phiona's mother, Nakku is against anything that isn't helping keep a roof above their heads. Night, Nakku's other daughter, fancies moneyed boys and an "easy" way out of impoverished slums whereas always-doing-right Phiona is Nakku's most reliable girl. Chess becomes the vehicle driving emotional threads to Phiona and Nakku's close relationship, threatening to divide a mother's need for stagnant consistency and a daughter's newfound commitment to better her situation.

Robert (David Oyelowo) is impressed with Phiona's (Madina Nalwanga) skills and pushes her to continue playing.
On quest to become a Chess Master, Phiona falls into arrogant behavior.
It is understandable.
Phiona hails from a predicament where women aren't to have dreams beyond finding a financially sound man. The situation is worse still. Night's ups and downs consist of receiving monies, fine clothes, and accessories as well as being systematically dumped several times. It isn't the life Phiona wants.
Moments in which Phiona is strongly defiant, wanting to compete in every chess competition she can, are intensely moving. Sure the audience is expected to believe that she is getting carried away with her forceful motivation. Yet implanted hope grows regardless.
Phiona is deserving-- deserving of every good prospect sliding in her direction.

Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o) parting Phiona's (Madina Nalwanga) hair.
Queen of Katwe, a Disney production, celebrates not just Phiona's chess victories. This bold, powerful tale, breaking a tradition of European beauty standards and exclusive fairy tale caricatures, is a testament to young black girls that they can be anything they want to be. They don't have to desire waist length hair, light skin and light eyes, or a romance. They can be their perfect individualized selves without any alteration caused by inherent brainwashing. They can be their own Phiona-- short cropped hair, dashiki fabric, and luminous ebony skin product of pure Africa-- desiring to play chess at highest level possible.
That is an astounding accomplishment.
The "unconventional" can become the normality.

Phiona the champ with one of her guiding lights, Robert (David Oyelowo).
Another solid plus, which is usually typical Hollywood tactic, is that no white saviors assertively present themselves. Mira Nair utilizes African resources to best of knowledgeable ability. From the Katwe slums to the big city, the largely black cast has no need for outsiders. Moreover, Phiona is her own hero. Sure Robert paved the way, shared a gift with Phiona, but her intelligent mind is hers alone.

"Are you my daughter?" Nakku asks. "Yes, I am," Phiona declares.

Queen of Katwe may have a few cases of formulaic principles to amp up drama.
However, that doesn't break away from a triumphant story that will inspire female equations worldwide. Phiona, an unlikely heroine, overcomes humungous odds by besting both boys and girls, with a beaming, wide smile and tender grace. With aide of valiant Robert and once reluctant-turned proud Nakku, Phiona cannot lose. 

Director Mira Nair and Lupita are all smiles in a filming location.
Nair has performed a gracious act by taking on a narrative set in Africa.
With witty charm, comedic chops, and heartfelt sincerity, David Oyelowo is exceptional as a man who sees and honors the potential he sees in lower class pupils. Lupita Nyong'o portrays Nakku with remarkable three-dimensional tenacity. From angrily snatching her children away from Robert to making ultimate sacrifices for Phiona's happiness to utter distraught at Phiona's temporary heartbreaking decision, Nyong'o displays an incredible range of skillful performance. Awards season should knock on her door next year. As for newcomer Madina Nalwanga, she was a standout as the leading focal point. She showed extreme depth, rendering Phiona's passion, strength, and will. This may be the start of an excellent road ahead for this mesmerizing young actress.

"Are we still going to be Americanah's Ifemulu and Obinze?" Yes. Please. Lupita and David have a beautiful vibe together. Let's hope they make a few more films with each other, especially a certain treasure based on Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi's thought-provoking novel. Is it too much to want Mira Nair or another amazing filmmaker woman of color to direct them again?
Queen of Katwe is worth viewing over and over. The acting, direction, music, and cinematography is an overall celebration of the beauty of Africa and its humbled yet passionately determined people. We all know a Phiona Mutesi-- whether resting dormant inside of us or visibly depicted in another.
Also must recommend staying after film is over for poignant rolling end credits and this special music video directed by Nair with surprising cameos. Such a splendid treat all around!
Let's hope that more authentic stories based in Africa receive the Hollywood greenlight.

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