I loved meeting Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende, the Disney’s Queen of Katwe real life inspirations behind the film, such an inspiring story from the slums to chess champion!
Disney’s Queen of Katwe celebrates the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by Lupita Nyong’o), a girl from the slums in Kampala, Uganda. She met youth coach and mentor Robert Katende at a local youth center and learned to play chess. Mutesi competed in many chess tournaments and was determined to win enough to become an international champion – and Katende was with her every step of the way!
Queen of Katwe Real Life Inspirations Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende
Both Phiona and Robert were soft spoken and very nice. They were excited to be in Los Angeles with us and to attend the movie premiere that evening! Here’s what we learned about them and their journey…
Robert Katende believes there are life lessons to be learned from the game of chess. “There are many values that we meet on a daily basis in our lives; child’s life that you can involve them well to the platform of chess. You can tackle abstract thinking, problem solving, decision making, weighing options. you can, even responsibility because chess kind of mentors you in finding value and where you have to get comfortable with your decisions, and don’t simply make moves. You should have a plan. You should have an objective.” Sounds a lot like life to me, I really love how Katende sees chess as a metaphor like this!
Phiona has a little advice to other young girls stepping out of her comfort zone. Mutesi at first could not believe that this was actually her story that she was watching on the big screen. She has definitely proven herself to be worthy, and says these few words of advice. All people have their problems, but you’ve just got to keep on pushing! “Have hope in everything you’re doing, and just be hard working, and just prove yourself. Have a dream, like, I want to be this in my life.”
Robert Katende’s work with The Pioneers youth mentorship program began in 2002. His programs are somewhat about chess, but they focus on the individual. “They have different abilities; different perspectives of life, and now you find yourself in this where you have to look at each child as an individual. And to me, it’s an investment. You really choose to be there and see how this is important to them.” Katende says that he’s had kids who are now adults, Phiona included, and they’ve excelled in so many ways. Some of them are even running the programs with the Pioneers! He really opens his heart and his home to these kids who have so many different issues at their own homes, he feels like a father figure and jokes that his home is sort of like a hotel!
Both Phiona and Robert did not spend much time on set, but they helped to coach their characters Madina Nalwanga and David Oyelowo, respectively, when it came to details. Imagine – your life story, everything you’ve accomplished in your life up to this point, the failures, the pain, the joyous moments – on the big screen for all to see. What a surreal experience for them!
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.