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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Queen of Katwe is the inspiring true story of a girl from the slums of Uganda who becomes a chess champion. It has strong themes of empathy, humility, integrity, perseverance, and teamwork. But there are also many hard scenes that little kids might not understand -- or could be upset by -- making it best for tweens and up. A boy who's run over by a motorcycle gets stitches without painkillers, another child is almost swept away in a flash flood, and a teen girl is lured from her family by an untrustworthy man who promises her a better life. The central family is homeless and must sleep on the street, and some scenes include background drinking and smoking. But in the end this is a beautifully told, entertaining drama about a strong, smart, loyal girl that will give families a lot to talk about.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
QUEEN OF KATWE is based on the story of 10-year-old international chess champion Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga). Phiona spends her days fetching water and selling maize to help her family until the day she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary who's also the chess team coach in Phiona's Ugandan neighborhood. He mentors her, and it's quickly clear that although she can't read or write, she was meant to play the game. But Phiona's mother (Lupita Nyong'o) is reluctant to let her daughter chase dreams when there's work to be done.
Is it any good?
Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), this inspiring drama manages to both capture the hardship of living in a Ugandan slum and work as a feel-good Disney movie. Nalwanga is subtle and powerful as Phiona, a girl who's just learning what's possible -- and also realizing how difficult it will be to rise above her circumstances. It's a movie about chess, but it's also about struggle, and the messages it's trying to send aren't subtle: You can do anything if you try and have love and support. But Queen of Katwe isn't just Phiona's story, and that's party of why it's so good. Her widowed mother, Harriet (Nyong'o), struggles to keep the family fed and sheltered while also keeping her dignity. And Oyelowo is lovely as the coach trying to keep the chess team going -- fighting to get funding and opportunities -- while at the same time feeling a responsibility to provide for his own family.
Families will have so much to talk about after watching this film. It doesn't "Disney-fy" the hardships of being poor in Uganda. There's a terrifying scene in which a boy is run over by a motorcycle and another when a toddler is almost swept away by a flood after rain drenches his roofless shelter. That kind of stuff makes the movie a bit too intense for younger elementary schoolers, but tweens and up should definitely see it. It's a hopeful glimpse into someone else's world that they might not know about. Phiona is a real person, and at the end of movie you get to see the people the actors portrayed and what's become of them since the end of the story -- an extra dash of inspiration.
Talk to your kids about ...
How does Phiona's day-to-day life compare to yours? What makes her a sympathetic, relatable character? How is she a role model?
How accurate do you think the movie is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers alter the facts when making movies based on true stories?
Some of the children (and some adults) get very upset when they lose. What do you do when you're faced with disappointment?
Phiona's mother is sometimes hard on Phiona and her siblings. Can you see why she'd be that way? Kids: Do you ever feel that your parents ask too much of you or expect you to do more than you'd rather do?
- In theaters: September 23, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: January 31, 2017
- Cast: David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
- Director: Mira Nair
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Humility, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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