Disney’s Queen of Katwe – the Real Inspiration

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When I was in Hollywood to celebrate the premiere of The BFG I got to screen Queen of Katwe which will be in theaters by September 30, 2016. It is a beautiful film based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from the streets of Kampala, Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess by soccer coach and former missionary Robert Katende, and starts on a journey to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion.

Phiona Mutesi
Phiona Mutesi
Marina Nalwanga as Phiona in the film

My boys have always been a little interested in chess and are going to love seeing this movie. One of my favorite parts of watching a film based on a true story are the real photos/stories at the end and Queen of Katwe was no different.

Phiona Mutesi (right, green shirt), Robert Katende (back row center)
Phiona Mutesi (right, green shirt), Robert Katende (back row center)
Marina Nalwanga the actress (right in the orange sweater) as Phiona Mutesi
Marina Nalwanga the actress (right in the orange sweater) as Phiona Mutesi

Phone’s story is a powerful testament to the strength of the human spirit, and it all began when she came across Robert’s chess program in a makeshift Agape Church in Katwe. Robert Katende was a recent college graduate and soccer coach for Sports Outreach Ministry who ran a chess program for impoverished children in the slums of Kampala when he first met Phiona Mutesi. As Phiona’s coach, mentor and father figure, Katende was instrumental in helping her pursue her dreams and become the champion she was destined to be. Today he is married with three children and houses several of his chess students while simultaneously serving as the director of Sports Outreach in Kampala and running 300 chess programs throughout Uganda.


“For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende (Oyelowo), a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.”

Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi at Robert’s chess program
Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi at Robert’s chess program
David Oyelowo and Madina Nalwanga in the film.

Earlier this year Phiona graduated from St. Mbuga Vocational Secondary School. She is now applying to college and hopes to become a doctor or lawyer. How amazing to be inspired by her journey but to know that it’s not over?! So excited to share this one with my family! Will you go see it?

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Disney's Queen of Katwe

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Allison Waken is a wife, mom of boys and Phoenix, AZ native. She has been creating inspiring content for All for the Boys since 2011. Allison loves travel, movies and spending as much time as possible with her family while she can!

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