Story

Queen of Katwe is based on a true story about a young girl, Phiona Matesi (Madina Nalwanga), who comes from the slums of Kampala in Uganda. She lives an impoverished life with her widowed mother, Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), her older sister, Night (Taryn Kyaze), and her two brothers, Brian (Martin Kabanza) and Richard (Ivan Jacobo).

Phiona helps her mother sell vegetables every day at the market. One day she follows her brother Brian to the Sports Ministry Outreach Church, where she watches him and several other children learning to play chess. Their teacher is Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a former footballer and engineer, who has taken a position as a sports missionary to help these disadvantaged children.

Robert invites Phiona in to play chess. Robert soon realises that Phiona is a chess prodigy and encourages her to enter tournaments, against her mother’s judgment. She goes on to be a successful chess player, winning the Ugandan Women’s Junior Championship when she’s only 11. She also wins Africa’s International Children’s Chess Tournament in 2009 with teammates Ivan (Ronald Ssemaganda) and Benjamin (Ethan Nazario Lubega). She’s able to return to school with much support from the Church. 

Themes

Poverty and hardship; prejudice; prostitution; loss of a parent

Violence

Queen of Katwe has some violence. For example:

  • Harriet kicks out at Night’s boyfriend Theo (Maurice Kirya) because she knows he’ll use Night as a prostitute. She warns him to leave her daughter alone or she’ll hurt him.
  • The children all tease Phiona when she first comes to the chess club because she smells. She eventually hits back at them when they spit at her and snort at her, calling her a pig.
  • Harriet grabs Phiona and Brian by their ears and marches them out of the room.
  • Brian is standing in the road when he’s suddenly hit by a motorbike, which knocks him unconscious.
  • Harriet hits Night because she leaves Richard alone and he nearly drowns in a flash flood.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, there are some scenes in Queen of Katwe that might worry some children in this age group. For example:

  • Many scenes show the slum conditions that Phiona lives in. Her slum is full of dirt, rubble, dilapidated buildings and shacks.
  • The scene where Brian is hit by a motorbike is quite distressing. Phiona has to pay a motorbike rider to help her take him to hospital. Brian is unconscious and has to be carried on the bike.
  • In the hospital the doctors have no pain medication, but Harriet agrees to Brian being stitched up. He screams in pain, and Phiona has to cover her ears.

From 5-8
In addition to the violent scenes and disturbing images mentioned above, Queen of Katwe has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Katwe is a scary-looking place and the shack Phiona lives in with her family is very sparse. They have little food to eat and Harriet and the children all have to work hard to make a living.
  • Robert enters the slum children into a chess competition at King’s College to compete against the ‘rich kids’. The principal doesn’t want them there and is afraid that they’ll bring diseases with them. Phiona’s partner makes a point of wiping his hand after he has to shake hands with her.
  • When Harriet can’t afford to keep Brian in the hospital, she pulls the drip out from his arm and Brian has to walk, with her help, back to their home.
  • Harriet and her children are thrown out of their house because they haven’t paid the rent. They sleep on the streets and eventually are allowed to stay in an old hall.
  • One night the rains come and the hall is flooded out. Night is supposed to have been looking after Richard, but she has left with Theo. Richard is washed from his bed and is seen hanging on by a rope. Harriet arrives just in time to save him. All their belongings are washed away.

From 8-13
In addition to the violent scenes and disturbing images mentioned above, Queen of Katwe has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group.

For example, Robert tells Phiona that his mother had him when she was very young. His father had another family so he was brought up by someone else. He met his mother when he was six and she meant the world to him. Sometime after, she died, which left him feeling very depressed. He wanted to die but now he is glad that he didn’t take his life.

Over 13
Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.

Sexual references

Queen of Katwe has some sexual references. For example:

  • Theo uses Night as a prostitute.
  • Night becomes pregnant.
  • Phiona is worried that soon the men will start coming after her.
  • The landlady tells Harriet to find a ‘sugar daddy’.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Queen of Katwe shows some use of substances. For example, some scenes show characters drinking and smoking on the streets.

Nudity and sexual activity

Nothing of concern

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in Queen of Katwe: Coca-Cola.

Coarse language

Queen of Katwe has some coarse language and name-calling. For example, the children call Phiona a pig.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Queen of Katwe is an uplifting, true story of a young girl from the slums of Uganda who finds her way out by being a champion chess player. Her coach, Robert, is also an inspirational character who gives up his engineering career to help underprivileged children.

This is a delightful story, but the movie presents the reality of life in the slums in an intense way. Therefore, we don’t recommend this movie for children under 8 years, and we do recommend parental guidance for children aged 8-13 years.

The main messages from this movie are that:

  • you can achieve your goals if you keep trying
  • we should all help people in need.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include perseverance, loyalty, compassion, selflessness and hope. You might also like to talk about the way that people treat the children from the slums, and whether this happens in Australia.