From Uganda slum to Disney heroine, chess champion inspires girls battling poverty

Wed Jul 13, 2016 12:16pm EDT
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By Nesserine Fellah

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The true story of a teenager from a Ugandan slum who transformed her life from corn seller to international chess player is to make its European premiere at the London Film Festival in October.

The Disney movie, "Queen of Katwe", is based on the life of Phiona Mutesi who turned up at a sports outreach program in Katwe in Kampala for a cup of porridge aged about nine in around 2005 and was drawn into a world of knights and checkmates.

Now Uganda's No. 3 female chess player according to the World Chess Federation, Mutesi is hailed an inspiration to many girls for managing to escape the life of poverty she was leading on the streets with her mother after her father died of AIDS.

Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world with 2014 government figures showing nearly 20 percent of the 38 million population lives in poverty. UNICEF data shows 24 percent of Ugandan children under five live in extreme poverty.

The movie, to be shown on Oct. 9 after opening in the United State in September, stars newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Mutesi, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o as her mother, and David Oyelowo as her chess teacher, a soccer player turned missionary.

Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr in "Selma", praised the film for illustrating a good side of the impoverished east African country.

"Africa is teeming with amazing people who in spite of their, at times, difficult lives, manage to remain full of joy and hope," Oyelowo said in a statement.

"This is a story where the impossible is made possible through family, mentorship, encouragement, hard work, and faith, all things we can aspire to."   Continued...