Phiona Mutesi’s story of chess success speaks of God’s faithfulness.
If anyone might be forgiven for thinking God had abandoned her, it would be Phiona Mutesi.
Born into one of the poorest areas of Uganda and raised by a single mother whose husband died of AIDS, Mutesi had no reason to think that Disney would be making a movie of her life one day. Even when she screwed up the courage to enter Robert Katende’s sports mission and sat down to play chess for the first time, the actual Queen of Katwe would have had a hard time imagining herself the subject of a movie.
Mutesi is extremely soft-spoken, her quiet voice in contrast to her powerful game and the confident poise of the Hollywood glitterati that normally anchor studio press conferences and junkets. She is instinctively deferential when asked to talk about herself, a habit born, perhaps, out of years of struggle to survive. Tellingly, when asked to name her favorite moment in a film that documents many of her competitive successes, she cites two conversations with her coach: one when she asks to live with him and his wife temporarily, the other when she challenges one of his teachings.
“Where is my safe square?” Mutesi asks the man who taught her to see chess as a metaphor for life and believes it can be something more than simply a distraction from the grinding poverty and threats that surround her. For the real-life Mutesi, her safe square may not be on the chess board, but in the hands of a God in whom she has been steadfast in believing. When asked if she had any special message for Christian viewers of the film, she said simply, “He’s always there.”
For David Oyelowo, who plays Mutesi’s teacher, Robert Katende, it was important that the film of this young woman’s transformation be helmed …
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