“Here I am playing the mother and being the shepherdess of these two going through this experience and yet, I was learning so much from them.” – Lupita Nyong’o
Queen of Katwe is the story of Phiona Mutesi and her journey to becoming a chess champion. An important element in the film is her relationship with her family especially with her mother Harriett (played by Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave). They struggle at times like all mother and daughters do but we also see Phiona protecting her mom while trying to open her eyes to a new world.
During the film, we watch the family rise up from heartbreaking situations in their village of Katwe to become hometown heroes.
Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes another family bond was developing. A bond that was felt on screen and felt real. Lupita, Madina Nalwanga (portrays Phiona) and Martin Kabanza (plays Phiona’s brother Brian) did a compelling job in their roles and many times moved me to tears.
I participated in a group interview with the three actors. I will never forget the moment they entered the room. Lupita burst through the doors with her commanding walk and beautiful smile. She was dressed in an attractive blue head wrap, striped blue dress and was holding Madina and Martin by the hand. She was the mama bear, protecting her cubs but the kids handled themselves with grace and maturity and seemed very comfortable in their skin. It was an honor to be in their presence and to hear them speak of their adoration for each other while sharing their personal stories with us. I don’t think they realize the impact they will have on people and how inspiring it was to watch them on the big screen.
Here are my favorite moments from the interview.
Once Madina was cast as Phiona (which wound up being a long process), Lupita had the chance to meet the children before they started shooting. She walked into a rehearsal workshop with Madina’s whole family and Madina, said, “Hi, Mom” and they gave each other a big hug!
Madina taught Lupita how to cook. Lupita asked her to take her shopping in the market to see how things were done and then to show her how to cook. Her whole onscreen family, shopped together, returned to the workshop to show Lupita how to prepare the meal. This was a big ice breaker for them and the beginning of a great working relationship.
They still call me mama. – Lupita
Queen of Katwe was the first movie the kids acted in. They watched Lupita closely and she taught them how to get into character. Martin said that he copied everything she did and described Lupita as a ‘good mom.’ Medina nicknamed herself the ‘copycat’ because she admits to secretly copying Lupita when she didn’t see her. Lupita was a great resource for Medina especially in some of the more emotional scenes because she couldn’t really cry. Medina is a trained dancer as “dancers are always happy” and crying wasn’t something that came naturally for her.
Madina left her Mom when she went to school. She’s never had someone else to call Mom since she was four until she met Lupita. Martin shares the same sentiment. He enjoyed meeting her and when he called out ‘Mom’ for the first time, Lupita replied to him and it touched his heart. Martin was raised by his grandparents after his mom left him at three months and this was his first time calling someone Mom.
One scene that touched Lupita in the film was when Phiona and her family are evicted after Brian’s accident. Lupita remembers sitting in a tent waiting with the kids. Both kids were very quiet and pensive. She asked how how they felt and they both mentioned how they could relate to this moment and how they experienced evictions in their past. She remembers being moved at how this is not only a real life reflection for Phiona, but real for Madina and Martin as well. This was a chance for them to tell their story and to bring it to a larger audience who would understand the challenges as well as the triumphs of people who live through poverty. Lupita comes from a very different background, “I come from a background of privilege and so I was very humbled in that moment.”
See Lupita, Madina and Martin in Queen of Katwe now in select theaters. Queen of Katwe opens nationwide on Friday, September 30.
I was invited by Disney and ABC on an all-expense paid media trip. Opinions are my own. Photography in this post by Carol of Allmommywants.com.