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Disney Developing Feature Based On Life Of Ugandan Chess Prodigy Phiona Mutesi w/ Mira Nair Directing

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act August 14, 2013 at 6:17PM

In an interview with Newsweek Pakistan, Mira Nair revealed that she's working on a film on teenage Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi.
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The Queen of Katwe

In an interview with Newsweek Pakistan, Mira Nair revealed that she's working on a film on teenage Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi.

Nair shares that the project is set up at Disney, although she doesn't give any further information on it, like how far along in the production process she is, or when the film can be expected.

Also known as "The Queen of Katwe," which is what the film is currently titled, Mutesi's story was the inspiration for a novel by Tim Crothers, titled, The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster. She's also been the subject of short documentaries and news reports, capturing her inspiring story. I embedded one of them at the bottom of this post.

In case you're wondering about Mira Nair's Uganda connection, she founded Maisha Film Labs - a Uganda-based film training initiative (not-so unlike the Sundance Film Festival's filmmaker labs, or the IFP's filmmaker labs).

The goal of the Maisha Film Labs is to give aspiring filmmakers in the East African country the tools & knowledge to tell their own stories through film, which would then help foster a self-sustaining film industry in Uganda and vicinity, that will support and represent the interests of local audiences.

Mira Nair's award-winning 1991 film, Mississipi Masala (which starred Denzel Washington, by the way, and probably my favorite of all her films), was shot, on location, in Kampala, Uganda. And, it's also in Uganda, in 1988, where she met her husband, scholar, Mahmood Mamdani, while she was doing research for the film. 

She also lives there.

Nair recounts her mission in starting the film labs:

One so rarely sees any images from the African continent that even vaguely resemble what it is like to live here, or to struggle here -- the dignity and the power and the beauty of it... The enormous validation and entertainment one gets from seeing your own situation, and your own language, and your own struggle onscreen is a very powerful thing... If we don't tell our own stories, no one else will.

Familiar words to all of you I'm sure, given ongoing discussions we have on this site about doing just that - taking control of *our* images and stories, and countering those rather limited depictions of *us* created by others.

Nair hopes to produce what she calls a "top-flight local cinema culture," in a region with a vibrant oral storytelling tradition, but with few opportunities to translate those stories into film, and with few institutions offering formal technical training. You can say the same thing about a number of other African countries.

But we can only assume that it's with that same motivation and passion that Nair will tackle Phiona Mutesi's story on film. I'm also assuming that this will be a scripted work of historical fiction, and not a documentary.

No ETA on The Queen of Katwe yet, but I'm definitely anxious to see what Ms Nair cooks up.

If you'd like to buy Tim Crother's novel, click HERE.

Watch the short documentary on Mutesi below:


This article is related to: Mira Nair


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