Queen of Katwe

Movie review by
Yvonne Condes, Common Sense Media
Queen of Katwe Movie Poster Image
Inspiring true tale of girl Ugandan chess champ.
  • PG
  • 2016
  • 124 minutes
 Parents recommend

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Many positive messages, including that anything is possible if you believe in yourself (and have love and support), we must help those who need us, and everyone deserves a chance to learn. Themes include empathy, humility, integrity, perseverance, and teamwork.

Positive role models & representations

Phiona is strong, smart, loyal to her family and friends, and focused on what she needs to do to become a better chess player. She works hard helping her mother care for her younger siblings and selling maize to passing cars on the street. Robert works very hard for the kids in chess club, even taking some of them into his home. He turns down a good job because of his loyalty to them. Harriet is somewhat hard on her children, but she must keep them safe and fed on her own.


A boy is run over by a motorcycle; here's no ambulance to call, and it's initially unclear whether he's alive. He later gets stitches with no pain killers, and he screams in pain. A toddler is almost washed away in a flash flood. The central family is homeless; they walk through a bad area at night and sleep on the street. Harriet grabs her children by the ears and drags them away. She threatens to hurt her daughter's boyfriend and destroy his motorcycle if he doesn't stay away from her. Robert recalls when his mother left him and came back, got sick and then died. Tense scene in which Harriet might be forced to compromise herself for money. Children are nervous and crying when they go to a chess tournament at a fancy school. 


Phiona's sister is lured away from her family by a man. She gives the family money, but her mother doesn't want to take it because it was from the daughter's boyfriend. Mother says the girl is "sinning" herself. Sister is pregnant, and Phiona worries that it's a matter of time before the men come after her. Harriet flirts with a shop owner and she's propositioned (nothing comes of it).


Some kids tell Phiona she smells like a pig. Kids are called slum children. "Oh my God."

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adult characters drink and smoke briefly in a few scenes.

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.

User Reviews

Parent of a 9 year old Written byScott B September 21, 2016

Indeed, Great for Families

I was able to see a preview of "Queen of Katwe" yesterday with my child and some of the kids from her 4th grade class. Despite the trailer, it is not... Continue reading
Adult Written byDan G. October 14, 2016

Excellent Movie, but too intense for pre-teens

The movie portrays extreme poverty without hiding much. The suffering that living in poverty causes is portrayed, and can be hard to watch, even for some adult... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 17, 2017

Queen Of Katwe Is A Must See!

Queen Of Katwe is a movie about how 10 year old Phiona living in Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona and her family. Her wor... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byitsdanaeagain January 14, 2017

Empowering Movie

This movie was really inspiring and eye-opening. The quality was beautiful, the storyline was perfect. The fact that it was based off a real story, was even bet... Continue reading

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 ...

  • Families can talk about Queen of Katwe's themes. How do the characters demonstrate empathy, humility, integrity, and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • 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?

Movie details

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