What is it like to direct an amazing and inspiring film in rural Uganda? We chatted with Disney’s Queen of Katwe Director Mira Nair and loved her so much, read along for some fun facts!
I’ve been sharing so much about my time in Los Angeles with Disney for the Queen of Katwe movie premiere. First you saw my movie premiere experience, then my interviews with actors Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, and Martin Kabanza, and now, a wonderful interview with female Director Mira Nair! She is such a magnificent woman, she was born in India, lived in New York for her early years, and has many amazing films under her belt. Accomplished female directors are quite rare in Hollywood, so I am so thrilled that I was able to chat with her and learn more about her life and the making of Disney’s Queen of Katwe movie!
5 Fun Facts About Director Mira Nair of Disney’s Queen of Katwe
1. She currently lives in Kampala, Uganda, right where the film was shot
Nair has lived in Kampala, Uganda for 27 years. She started her life there after filming Mississippi Masala, fell in love, had a son, and created her film school, Maisha. Katwe is only 15 minutes away from where she lives, so it’s wonderful that Nair was able to meet Phiona and her family, spend time with them, and really see what their lives were like in Katwe.
2. Nair heard Phiona Mutesi’s story and was instantly intrigued
Director Mira Nair was approached by Ugandan Tendo Nagenda, Disney’s Executive Vice President of Production, who happened to be in Uganda for a family reunion. “He showed me this little article about Phiona in the ESPN journal, about this child who sold corn in Katwe, who now was heading to becoming a chess prodigy and going to the Olympics in Russia. And I was completely struck by the story.” Nair told him that he had to meet her, and that’s where the desire to share the story of the Queen of Katwe was born!
3. “The slogan of Maisha is if we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will.”
Nair stressed the importance of her film school and what it stands for. “There are so few images of Africans on any screen anywhere and when there are, it’s usually death, despair, and dictators. We created the school, because we have to make the dignity and the joy of everyday life in our street in Kampala, anywhere. You know, be specific. Be local. Be truthful. And be excellent.”
4. Outside of the main actors, casting was done strictly in Kampala
Director Mira Nair wanted to cast real people from Katwe and surrounding neighborhoods in Kampala. All of main actors and the kids and other extras are from Uganda! “I always work a lot with non-actors, people who have never faced the camera before, opposite legends like Denzel Washington, in this case Lupita [Nyong’o] and David [Oyelowo]. That kind of, what I think is, alchemy between the sort of purity and lack of artifice of a child actor.” Nair says she loves to see the purity and freshness of a kid, especially when they are from the same streets as the story you’re telling. Also, before finding Madina Nalwanga to play Phiona, Nair went through 700 girls for about 6 months prior to filming – wow!
5. Her son is rapper Young Cardamom
Nair’s son goes by the name of Young Cardamom, and he’s responsible for the music and the soundtrack for Queen of Katwe. He’s got a cool track that plays throughout the movie,#1 Spice. Go ahead and try not to bounce in your seat! Oh – make sure you stay all the way through the end of the movie, the video to the song #1 Spice plays and it is great!
Nair’s son also played chess, so it wasn’t her first go around. Although Nair says that it was a challenge to film the game of chess and make it exciting, she wasn’t completely in the dark. “My son played competitive chess when he was eight, and we would go to Parsippany and go to the Holiday Inn in Atlanta. I was at all kinds of places.”
Nair was so sweet, she had such a warm personality and didn’t leave the room without first saying, “Female power!” She says that she didn’t really learn how to play chess until the real Phiona Mutesi taught her, and held onto one of her favorite quotes said to her by Mutesi while playing, “You must consider the other side of the board.” Nair used this as a metaphor for every day life, “you know, if we all considered the other side of the world it would make life work.” Wisdom.
Disney’s Queen of Katwe movie is in theaters September 30th!
I am attending a press trip courtesy of Disney. Travel, lodging and other logistics are provided, opinions are those of Honey + Lime.