Dennis Asiimwe

Thursday, 27 October 2016

I have a little eccentric habit; I tend to avoid movies that have been cranked up either by a media drive, a melodramatic marketing campaign (remember Deadpool?), or expectations in general. I like to stay away, let the noise die down, and then stroll over to the cinema (quite literally – it’s walking distance from my house) and catch the movie without the distraction that is public opinion.

Queen of Katwe premiered in Uganda on 1st October, 2016. Yesterday, evening seemed as good a time as any to try out the movie using my ‘I-hope-the-hype-has-died-down’ approach.

I usually follow a neat routine – call ahead, book a seat, book buttered popcorn (you have to – sometimes they run out!), turn my phone off, and stroll.

This time, I also gave a mate of mine a call to see if he wanted to tag along.

He is something of a movie buff and was eager to watch the movie as well. After all, Queen of Katwe is from Walt Disney Studios, the same folks that own LucasFilm (think Star Wars & the Indiana Jones franchises), Pixar (think Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, Up, The Incredibles and Ratatouille), live action movies like Alice in Wonderland and the Pirates of the Caribbean films, animated classics like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tangled and the Oscar®-winning Big Hero 6, and Marvel Studios (seriously – Walt Disney Studios own the production house that gave us Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man).

Against that backdrop, you can’t blame a black man for looking forward to Queen of Katwe, eh? I plunked down in my seat (it had been a long day), watched the opening credits fade in and dug into my popcorn, thinking to myself ‘Let’s see what that little man was wailing about.’

The movie has its flaws, certainly. The accents were somewhat dodgy – the Ugandan accent is notoriously difficult to master for outsiders, mostly because we have about 18 of them, which also means there is no such thing as a Ugandan accent (which may also disqualify this as a flaw). However, it was hilarious how they nailed some words that we all seem to insist on pronouncing the same way, like ‘clothes’ (the movie suggests that Ugandans all pronounce this as clothez like its the law or something).

Some of the Ugandan adult performances were either stiff or clumsy but the actors warmed to their roles as the camera rolled (Peter Odeke in particular was excellent as an unexpected source of comic relief). There are also some suspiciously healthy-looking slum dwellers.

But the movie has its strengths, powerful potent ones. There’s the wonderful cinematography from Mira Nair, a director that calls this country home; some of her cutaways and establishing shots were breathtaking.

There’s that wonderful soundtrack that rubber stamps this movie with a Ugandan sound and mood, making you sit a little more upright in your chair.

There’s the glam of some soul-searing score, with orchestral music from Disney’s studios, a nod to the deliberate effort at quality that lets you know this movie will not sound out of place in a Manhattan movie theater.

There’s the great chemistry and counterfoil between the adult leads and support actors, whether it’s between the nobility of ‘coach’ Robert Katende (played by the charismatic David Oyelowo) and Nakku Harriet (the mother of Phiona Mutesi, the movie’s chess prodigy) played by Lupita Nyong’o in another compelling interpretation of female strength; or whether it’s the loving and solid relationship between ‘coach’ and his wife. There’s even a delightful nearly seductive scene that positively sizzles, and a cameo for Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine who brings a large helping of class and oomph to the movie.

But mostly, there’s the story, a beautifully written interpretation William Wheeler, a true life story that has it’s grim moments just like life often does, and has it’s moments of beauty and wonder, again, just like life does. There is a scene where Madina Nalwanga (a talented first-time actress who plays Phiona Mutesi) is flying in a plane for the first time. As the plane reaches cruising altitude, she looks out of the window and sees the clouds below. She turns to ‘coach’ and asks him:

“Coach, isn’t this heaven?’

And he replies “No Phiona; I think heaven is much higher than this.”

All around the theater, people struggled with lumps in their throats.

Queen of Katwe is a beautifully textured story. It has conflict, doubt; a coming of age for Fiona as she realizes her potential and how dismal her current circumstances are; redemption, and that wonderful emotion, hope. It’s a story that we can relate to because for the most part, we have all been there. It embodies the words that Churchill made famous – never ever ever give up. I haven’t seen a story that captures the essence of perseverance against horrible odds that was this eloquent since Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness.

When Phiona doubts herself, ‘coach’ Robert Katende refuses to give up on her.

“Do not be so quick to tip your king!” he says to her when she uses the traditional chess gesture of surrender during a tournament.

Kalyegira gets it wrong

And that is probably what is wrong with Timothy Kalyegira. He tipped his king a long time ago and would like us all to wallow in despair with him. Misery does love company. It is this that causes a man who has as much knowledge about movies as he does about quantum physics to rant about Queen of Katwe.


The polite thing for him to do (and please pardon my Russian) would be for him to fuck off; he has no idea what he is talking about, and it has been a long while since he did.


And in the meantime, for the rest of you, if you haven’t caught it yet, do yourselves some good and go watch Queen of Katwe: a true life story where you get to root for Phiona, the strength and gradual open mindedness of her mother, her irrepressible younger brother (who wasn’t too bad at chess either), her mistake-addled older sister and the little boy that is the youngest in this single parent family.

Go watch a powerful and touching movie that doesn’t have an ounce of corniness, and is plotted in measured, realistic tones, with characters that you come to care for and will actually miss when it ends. Go watch a movie that is about a remarkable girl, and doesn’t bother with any feminist posturing. Go and watch a movie that is about you, one that highlights something that really should be obvious by now – the best miracles are the ones we make and own.

And when you do get to watch it, stay for the end credits. They are worth it.

[Copied from Denis Asiimwe’s Facebook]

Asiimwe is a marketing communications and strategic planning consultant