What do you expect from your average sports film?
Meera Nair, the acclaimed filmmaker who has delivered films like The Namesake and Monsoon Wedding, has teamed up with Disney for a new inspirational sports drama. It has all the makings of a sports film: an underdog struggles to perfect the sport they are passionate about, finds a mentor to help them, and finally tastes sweet victory.
Mira Nair's new offering has all these ingredients but there is one difference: This Disney film is based in the east African nation of Uganda and chronicles the real life story of Phiona Mutesi, a chess master who rose up from selling corn in the Kampala, Uganda slum of Katwe. It is very rare that a sports story
The film talks about Phiona's journey as a young chess prodigy who struggles to make a living as she is mentored by her teacher who wants her to make it big internationally. Lupita Nyong'o plays the role of Nakku Harrie, David Oyelowo plays Robert Katend, Phiona's teacher and the role of Phiona is played by 10-year-old Madina Nalwanga.
Nair talked to Indiewire about casting Madina Nalwanga in the role of Phiona, "Madina walked in and had sold corn for years. She knew how to put it on, how to bathe with half an inch of water. You can’t teach or direct that convincingly. It’s wonderful to be able to know the truth and then get it all aspects of it.
Nyong'o found international stardom after she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years At A Slave. The actress feels the film is special because, "It's the kind of film that opens the world's mind as to what it means to be African and what life is like on the continent people often see Africa and Africans as a backdrop to foreign stories and here we have the Africans front and center in their own narrative."
David Oyelowo echoes Nyong's sentiment about this unique film, "I sort of did it as a love letter for my daughter Zoe. It’s the first time I’ve done a film that I can take my whole family to. For someone of African descent myself to see a positive, life-affirming story like this was something I really wanted to be a part of. I couldn’t believe Disney was making a movie like this.'