losing it at the movies: true stories (david byrne, 1986)
the band

film fatales #178: queen of katwe (mira nair, 2016)

Diversity in representation matters. Queen of Katwe is a pretty standard based-on-a-true-story underdog sports story, except the sport is chess. But it's different because the underdog, Phiona Mutesi, is a young girl prodigy from a Ugandan slum. You've seen movies like this before, but probably not with someone like Phiona at the center.

Mira Nair does a beautiful job of presenting the slum as a place not only of distress, but as a place people live. Nair doesn't prettify things, and a key part of the narrative is the attempts to get Phiona to rise out of the slums. But Nair gives the town's inhabitants their dignity.

Like all underdog sports stories, everything leads to the big final match. There's a formula to this, for a reason: it works. While you are watching Queen of Katwe, you are caught up in Phiona's story, you look forward to that final match. But Nair doesn't rise above the formula. The difference is in the setting and in the characters, but those differences are plugged into a tale that takes few chances. The film never reaches beyond the basics.

David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o add luster to the cast, and are excellent, but the real find is newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona. You can't help rooting for her.


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