I had resisted going to see Queen of Katwe because it is produced by Disney, and I am weary of Disney’s penchant for romanization and fabrication of a perfect reality, often at the cost of truth or accurate representation of history to sell to “young people.”
Nonetheless, I braced myself and went, and am glad that I did. Queen of Katwe is the important story of ten-year old Phiona, who after many years becomes the leading chess player and master in Uganda.
Performed by Madina Nalwanga, who is exquisitely beautiful, the story is set in the impoverished city of Katwe, Uganda. Phiona’s curiosity and wanting an escape from selling maze to help feed her family, leads her to chess, and over the years of steady progress, exposure to life outside of the slum, she strives for a home and more opportunities for herself and her family.
Lupita Nyong’o, herself a beauty, plays the mother who supports Phions in her goals despite misgivings; and David Oyelowo, plays Robert Katende, Phiona’s chess tutor who teaches her about life and emotional struggles and expanding her horizons. This is a stalwart cast that appears so at home in the setting that as a viewer I was right there, as hopeful as the people of the Katwe community.
But I was also acutely aware of the vast disparity and class biases so evident throughout most of Africa and the Caribbean. They might all be Ugandans, but class divide is rife in those communities, and the colonial legacy exacerbates the gulf between the poor and the rich, the latter, who often do not see the need to help those less fortunate. Watching the movie had my chest tight for other reasons –just witnessing the plight and poverty of Katwe, which is a mirror of many, many cities, towns and villages all throughout Africa and the Caribbean, and I can’t help but point fingers.
While it is true that those former colonial societies have had corrupt leaders who have squandered money from the people, they are not the real thieves, even though the West wants us to focus on a handful of such leaders. The fact is Europe and America daily feign amnesia, and act as if their exploitation of these societies have not led to their impoverishment, while developing the cities of Europe and the USA.
Why Europeans are not deeply ashamed of their exploitation, why they don’t drop to their knees to seek forgiveness for how much they have and continue to steal and rape the African continent, speaks to their deep-seated denial of their savage actions. Given Uganda’s natural wealth, reported as the 133rd largest export economy in the world and the 81st most complex economy according to the Economic Complexity Index (ECI), Katwe and other such cities and towns throughout Uganda should not exist.
Endowed with numerous natural resources, including, gold, tungsten, tin, beryl, and tantalite in the south; tungsten, clay, and granite, mica, copper, limestone, and iron in the north, and is said to be so fertile it could easily feed the entire African continent if it were farm commercially, so why does such poverty exist? Uganda was the original Garden of Eden.
Given these resources there should be no city like Katwe and no child or adult in Africa should live in the abject conditions depicted in that movie. Collectively, we all should feel deeply ashamed and work to eradicate those conditions for once and for all. It is not enough to have Phiona, in as much as we applaud her. There are thousands like her, and in order for Africa and the Caribbean to catch up and recovery from the holocaust of slavery, we have to provide opportunities for many thousands Phionas. Let repatriation begin.
Europe must be made to compensate by building schools, housing, universities and hospitals, and equipping them with the latest technology for the masses who are still reeling from the terrorism and violation of slavery that build Europe for more than 500 years.