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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: Queen of Katwe

January 30th, 2017

Queen of Katwe - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
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Queen of Katwe

I think it is fair to say Queen of Katwe is an Oscar-bait movie. It is an inspirational movie about someone rising up from challenging circumstances. However, it struggled in theaters and went nowhere during Awards Season. Is there a problem with the film? Or was it released too soon for Awards Season and without Oscar buzz wasn’t able to find an audience in theaters?

The Movie

The plot begins in 2007 in the Katwe slums of Kampala, Uganda. We focus on a poor family struggling to make it after the death of the father. Nakku Harriet gets her two daughters, Night and Phiona to sell maize so the family have money. One day, Phiona sees her younger brother, Brian, sneaking off to a place where he gets food and learns chess. She’s bullied by some of the boys there, but when she fights back, she’s welcomed by the teacher, Robert Katende. “This is a place for fighters.” as he puts it.

Phiona turns out to be a natural at chess. She and some of Robert’s other students are so good that he wants to enter them in a tournament, but the organizer doesn’t think they are right for it. They are too poor, they don’t have proper hygiene, they might have diseases, etc. There is another obstacle for Phiona and Brian to get into the tournament, their mother. When Nakku Harriet finds out her kids are spending their time with Robert, she thinks its part of some gambling racket and forbids them from going. Of course Robert is able to convince her to let them to go, after making her a promise, because if they didn’t go, the movie would be over. When they get there... they run into spoilers.

Just a quick note that there is a side story or two also in the movie. Firstly, Robert is a university educated engineer, but he can’t get a job, because he has no family ties and employers care more about connections than qualifications. Secondly, Night and Harriet have a difficult relationship, due to Night having a boyfriend Harriet does not approve of.

Queen of Katwe is Oscar-bait and if you have seen a number of these films, I’m sure you will be able to point out all of the clichés used here. It has also been described as an inspirational sports movie... when did chess become a sport? Never mind. The inspirational sports movie has its own set of clichés and this movie uses many of them. There are a couple of other problems that hold the movie back. Firstly, chess is not the most cinematic pastime and the movie never really overcame this obstacle. Then again, making the chess scenes more cinematic might have taken away from the naturalistic nature of the movie. Speaking of which, the second issue is a lot of the actors are new to the profession and there were times when the performances were a little rough.

However, if you can forgive the film its clichés and some of the rougher acting, then I think you will be very happy with the overall movie. It does tell a great and inspiring story and that can be very important, especially in troubling times. Also, while some of the acting it rough, the main cast is excellent. I’m a little disappointed that Lupita Nyong'o got no traction during Awards Season, although she did win an Oscar just a few years ago, so that performance is still fresh in people’s minds. Meanwhile, Madina Nalwanga was incredible in her first performance. I really hope she has a long career. I also really hope more people see this movie.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD / Blu-ray begin with an audio commentary track with the director, Mira Nair. Queen of Katwe: Their Story is a multi-part, 30-minute making of featurette. A Fork, A Spoon, & A Knight is a 13-minute short film about the real life Robert Katende. There is a six-minute featurette about the music, as well as two music videos. Finally, there are 20 minutes of deleted scenes. This is a great collection for a film that struggled in theaters.

The Verdict

Queen of Katwe was released a little early for Awards Season and had too many genre clichés to really stand out. That said, if you want some inspiration in your life, then this movie will provide that. The DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack have a good selection of extras, especially for a film that barely made a peep at the box office and overall it is a Pick of the Week contender.

Filed under: Video Review, Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, Madina Nalwanga, Taryn Kyaze, Martin Kabanza