We say we want more Diversity—in films and books and culture generally. We complain about the fact that seemingly so few Americans know how other people in the world live.
And then Disney—not always known for its “woke”ness—makes a film that starts to address both these issues. Queen of Katwe, starring the simply amazing Lupita N’yongo (Academy Award winning actress from 12 Years a Slave), tells the based-on-a-true story of a teenage girl from a slum in Uganda who learns chess, and then tries to use it to transform her family’s life. Lupita plays the girl’s mother. It is directed by Maira Nair. Remember #OscarSoWhite from earlier this year, how not enough movies pass the Bechdel test, not enough movies feature people of color, not enough movies are made by women directors? This is the kind of movie we’ve been saying we want—and it’s all that and good entertainment.
In some ways, Queen of Katwe seems like your typical bootstrap movie. Except it’s not.
In your typical bootstrap movie, the hero is a person of exceptional character who is trying to get ‘raised up’ and is surrounded by folks who have Issues—drugs, anger, drugs and anger, violence. In some way or another, the people surrounding the hero are morally lacking. But in Queen of Katwe, the hero, Phiona Mutesi, and her family have a principled dignity.
The typical bootstrap movie always has an oh-so-tired scene (or scenes) in which someone wallowing “at the bottom” gives the hero a hard time for trying to “get out.” That scene is not in this movie. The villain in this movie is not the people surrounding the hero or individuals oppressing the hero.
So let the myth of the ever-present haters die. Let the myth of the degenerate poor die. This is a story about how even with good decisions and good intentions and effort and behavior it can be nearly impossible to move beyond life’s circumstances—and about how people often have to make extremely difficult and unfair decisions to even have a chance—and even then, success is not assured. Queen of Katwe is entertaining, heartwarming, funny, and charming. The acting is terrific.
If we want more films and more stories like this told—and here we really really do—we need to support this movie. Plus its a really enjoyable couple of hours.
For a great list of Diversity books, from the Children’s Book Council, click here (some Bliss Group Books are included).