FILM REVIEW: Disney’s “Queen of Katwe”

An ambitious young man on the other side of the world is torn between his dream job as an engineer and his mission to help impovershed youth succeed – To Sir With Love, 1967

David Oyelowo as Robert Katende and Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi in "The Queen of Katwe."

David Oyelowo as Robert Katende and Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi in “The Queen of Katwe.”


One of my favorite films is 1967’s To Sir, With Love, based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by E.R. Braithwaite (…what can I say: I love old films). In it, Sidney Poitier plays an out of work engineer who takes a position teaching  street youths that no one else can manage.

Fast-forward to 2016. Disney’s new film, Queen of Katwe is based a book by Tim Crothers. In the film – also based on a true story – Robert Katende, an out of work engineer, takes a position teaching street youths that no one else seems to care about… but that’s where the uncanny similarity ends. Robert has something that “Sir” didn’t have: a brilliant chess prodigy named Phiona.

Queen of Katwe is based on the incredible, heart-warming, true story of 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess. With Katende’s training, and the support from her family and community, Phiona is instilled with the confidence and determination to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion.

(At least) 3 verses of scripture came to mind while watching the film:queen-quote2

  • Matthew 25:40 – And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me;
  • Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; and
  • Proverbs 18:16 – A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men (all NKJV).

For Phiona Mutesi (played by beautiful newcomer Madina Nalwanga), life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle, Her mother, Harriet (played by Lupita Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende , a soccer-player-turned-Christian-missionary who teaches chess to local children (played by David Oyelowo), she is captivated (plot, courtesy of

Queen of Katwe picks up the mantle of the wildly successful To Sir, With Love; showing how far the love and vision of a good teacher can take a child, and how that love can ignite genius: even a child with no hope or vision of their own.


Forced to drop out of school after the death of her father and sister, Phiona did not read or write; yet she has the remarkable skill, analytical acumen, and quiet genius to master the game of chess. “Anybody can be taught moves and how to react to those moves, but to reason like she does at her age is a gift that gives her the potential for greatness,” said Dina Kagramanov[1], a Canadian national champion who Phiona plays against and is represented in the film. Phiona finds her “greatness” in mastering the strategies of chess, in spite of the fact that she lacks education, and is surrounded by unspeakable poverty and hopelessness.

The real Phiona Mutesi in a game of chess.

The real Phiona Mutesi in a game of chess.

The remarkable story first came to the attention of Walt Disney executive Tendo Nagenda after reading about Phiona in the ESPN article. Nagenda, who is of Ugandan descent, knew that it would make a great movie, and became its champion within the ranks of Disney. The film is groundbreaking in that it provides an inside look at life in an African country; specifically of those who live in poverty: a first for a Disney film. Yet, its triumph-over-adversity theme is quintessentially Disney, and it brings to mind popular films like Slumdog Millionaire, which took place in the slums of Mumbai. An amazing fact about Queen of Katwe is that none of the children in the film – including its star, Madina Nalwanga – have ever acted before.

See Disney’s Queen of Katwe,  a wonderful, inspiring film for the entire family. Directed by Mira Nair, the film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo, Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga.

Like To Sir, With Love and Phiona Mutesi herself,  Queen of Katwe has all  that it takes to become a triumphant success.  This timeless classic is a testament to the resilience and power of the spirit.

Queen of Katwe opens in U.S. theaters on SEPTEMBER 23, 2016.


[1] – “The Game of Her Life”, ESPN The Magazine,  Jan. 10, 2011. .  Accessed 9-21-2016. 





FILM REVIEW: “Belle” – It’s Not What You Think

Sometimes a film’s trailer can be its own worst enemy, and it can diminish its chances for success. When I saw the trailer for the movie Belle, I thought it was yet another slave film, one which shows the inhumanity of racism, particularly against Black women ( instead we’ve chosen the short film above, featuring the cast and crew). After watching films like 12 Years A Slave and Skin—based on the true story of Sandra Laing, a Black woman born into a white South African family during 1950’s apartheid—my soul just wasn’t ready for more of that story.

But when my husband, after reading a review, suggested we see Belle–the first indication that my impressions may have been wrong–I listened…and I’m glad I did.
Here are 6 things you probably didn’t know about Belle and why you should go to see it this weekend:

  1. It’s not a slave film. This is the first impression to overcome.
  2. It’s a modern story in the guise of a period piece. Set in 18th century England, Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay, who was raised by her aristocratic great uncle Lord Mansfield and his wife. Its messages about race, love, justice, and hope, however, transcend the American condition today.
  3. It’s about a strong woman who changes the course of history – not a tragic, objectified, or sexualized one. And, unlike most images we’ve seen of black women in film, Belle is a woman of privilege and aristocracy.
  4. It’s as much about men as it is about women. Belle has a wealth of both male and female characters which reflect all aspects of the human psyche. Women’s rights are a central theme in Belle; however, strong men of integrity are particularly central to the story as well.
  5. It’s about government – physical, and spiritual. Underlining the plot is the classic film battle between good and evil. Two governments exist side by side in the film: one represented by the shackles created by gentry, greed, caste, and slavery, and the other represented by liberty, justice, love, and God.
  6. It’s a family film. It’s the type of film we all say we want to see more of, which illuminates integrity, bravery, heroism, and the good in humankind.  It’s rated PG (for a moment of harsh language, brief violence – and smoking).

The film was inspired by a painting, commissioned by Lord Mansfield, which depicts Belle and her cousin Elizabeth, who is white, as equals during a time when slavery existed as an institution in Britain.  It is a film which turns a corner in film making history, written by Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante—both Black women. Belle is a reflection of its eponymous character. It shows the liberty created by the strength and brilliance of a strong woman who is free to write her own story in life.

There are no hidden agendas, just the truth—finally.

THE INSPIRATION: The original painting of Lady Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray.

THE INSPIRATION: The original painting of Lady Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray (artist unknown).

BELLE opens nationwide throughout the month of May 2014. 

Many thanks to Fox Searchlight Pictures for the use of the featurette and images.


Dr. Wilfred Graves Jr. Comments on Recent Son of God Movie


I watched Son of God on opening weekend and would like to share a few thoughts about my experience as the movie approaches its second weekend.  My general impression of Son of God is overwhelmingly positive.  I enjoyed watching the movie for the most part and would give it a solid B+ rating.  There is a sincerity about the film that comes through quite clearly and I applaud reality TV producer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey, for bringing the Savior’s story to the big screen for the first time in over a decade.


Son of God is not as graphic as The Passion of the Christ and covers a broader excerpt of Jesus’ life and ministry.  It is also unlikely that this film will spark any controversy as did The Passion.  Son of God does a good job of presenting the political motivations for the Crucifixion; however, I think that those unfamiliar with the Gospels may have a difficult time figuring out why Jesus had to die from a larger theological perspective (i.e., he died for our sins).  It will be left up to believers to fill in the details for the uninitiated.  Churches may find it helpful to sponsor discussion groups or Bible studies surrounding the film.


As with any dramatic retelling of the Bible, some things are definitely left out of this movie.  One notable omission is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  Son of God is a lot like the miniseries that aired on the History Channel about a year ago, and really, it is just a reedited version of the latter half of it.  To me the miniseries felt like a highlight reel more than a complete story.  This is sort of the feeling that I get from Son of God as well.  Of course, every detail from the Gospel accounts cannot be fit into 138 minutes.


There aren’t any surprises with this movie. Son of God follows the Biblical accounts pretty faithfully.  I liked the inclusion of Hebrew prayers and other realistic details in the film, but was sometimes distracted by the British accents.  I will note that the Jesus of Son of God looks more like a model than a carpenter.  As I watched the movie, I kept wondering how such a good looking “movie” Jesus would have handled the torture and degradation of Calvary.  Yet, the toned down violence of this film compared to that of The Passion of the Christ makes this current project more family friendly by far.  If you have not yet seen Son of God, I do believe that you will enjoy it.  I would love to hear your take on the film.