The history of movies about chess is somewhat uneven. While the game can be cinematic, when filmed the right way, many feel the only truly great chess movie is 1993’s Searching For Bobby Fischer. That movie was not actually about Bobby Fischer, but that American chess champion of the 1960s/‘70s has been the subject of numerous films, ranging from the 2011 documentary Bobby Fisher Against the World to the 2015 biopic Pawn Sacrifice.
Now there’s a new chess movie that seeks to wed the game to the traditional Disney inspirational sports formula, with an assist from ESPN Films. The film is called Queen of Katwe, and its first trailer has now been released online (see above).
The film tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a chess prodigy from Uganda who earned Woman Candidate Master status in 2012, following the deaths of her father and brother. The film, shot in Uganda and South Africa and directed by Mira Nair, co-stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, and is based on a book of the same name by Tim Crothers. Katwe, for those unfamiliar, is a region in the Ugandan capital.
You can check out the official poster for Queen of Katwe, below:
In the Queen of Katwe trailer, we see chess being introduced to Mutesi’s village, and in a moment of metaphor, she’s told “the small one can become the big one.” It soon becomes clear that she’s better at the game than those around her, and moves on to national competitions and inspirational victories.
The Disney inspirational sports formula is a time-tested and durable one, and the film has a strong pedigree, coming from director Nair (The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay!), and starring such highly regarded actors as Oyelowo (from Selma) and Nyong’o (the Oscar winner for 12 Years a Slave). The film will also have the combined promotional muscle of Disney and ESPN behind it.
On the other hand, Mutesi’s story isn’t exactly well-known to the general public, nor are we in the midst of any kind of “chess boom." It’s not like Disney can promote the film during ESPN chess coverage, the way it could push a basketball movie during NBA games. And attempts to adapt the Disney formula outside U.S. borders have been less than successful in the past - remember Million Dollar Arm?
Queen of Katwe opens in U.S. theaters on September 23rd, 2016.
Source: Walt Disney Studios