I find movies based on true stories to be more interesting, as well as, motivating and inspiring. Queen of Katwe, is Phiona Metusi’s journey from underdog to chess prodigy. I love this film and think that everyone should see it, especially with families with tween/teen girls. The messages in the film opened up conversation about girl power, survival and definitely not taking what we have for granted. Our country is in an uncertain state more than ever, but we still have so many luxuries that some people will never experience. We see a scene in a movie where Phiona and her friends celebrate eating Ketchup! We really need to appreciate the little things in life and put perspective on our wants and complaints.
Meeting the real-life heroes from movies isn’t something that is achievable to most. I was extremely fortunate to meet the real Phiona (as well as Madina Nalwanga the lovely actress who portrays Phiona) and her mentor/coach Robert Katende. They were both soft-spoken, kind and their dedication to each other and their sport is commendable. Phiona is 20 years old and started playing chess at the age of 9. She is now a Candidate Master.
Enjoy this interview with Phiona and Robert:
What life lessons do you think children and adults can learn from chess?
Robert: There are several, actually, just generally in life and there are many values that we meet on a daily basis in our lives. You can tackle abstractive thinking, problem solving, decision making, weighing options, and 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, an activity objective. It gives you an opportunity to where you can have ideas and try to figure out how to bring them to reality. So you must get input in the integration of these values and principles from the game into your lifestyle.
Is the movie as true to life as it could be?
Phiona: Well, I liked it when I saw it. I couldn’t think that I was watching myself. But it was my first time in the big theater. I’ve never been in such a situation. But, I feel like I shouldn’t be there, like, shouldn’t it be someone else? It feels too huge for me.
Can you talk about mentorship and how that played a role in your life?
Robert: Yeah, surely it is something remarkable. I have learned on being a father. Before I got a family, I was more in training, so they really taught me so much about tolerance, patience and embracing each one’s ability.
Because when it comes to the programs, it’s not so much entailed on chess but it’s more of focusing on an individual. Every child is different- they have different abilities; different perspectives of life, and now you find yourself in this dilemma where you have to look at each child as an individual. And to me, it’s more of a community investment. You really choose to be in there and see how this important to them.
They are the ones leading most of the programs now because they have turned out to be good leaders. But I remember ten years back, a good example was Richard. So this is the young boy who volunteered to keep our chess support current from the beginning. And then, he was keeping this chess support, and then one time, almost like six months, he came on and said, “Coach, I think we need to find somewhere else to keep our board.”
Why? And then he said, “No, when my uncle comes back home, he comes back drunk, and he fights with auntie, and so they will break our board.” Now, this really hit me and I almost shed tears because for him, it was for the board, and me, I wondered what kind of trauma does this child go through at home? So it takes you beyond what you think, when it comes to mentorship.
Sometimes once you see what this child is going through, they’re just symptoms, and they have a cause behind it. And sometimes you cannot keep on addressing the symptoms and that forces you to go beyond, and then reach out to the guardians. Those who don’t have them, I got an opportunity to get to adopt them so that I am with them now.
Mentorship is not something really you can just say it’s on and then off. It’s an ongoing process. It is an ongoing selfless living.
Phiona, How do you react to be defeated?
Phiona: My reaction whenever I would lose a game, most of the time I would cry, like, maybe today, with the pain of pressure, that’s when I cry most. Like whenever I was in Uganda, I could do most of my games, so here I am; I’m coming to Russia; I thought everything is going to be small. Yet, I forgot about that this before, that is different experience from Uganda, so from that, I think I got an experience- a great one, and got to learn everything, so it doesn’t affect me anymore. Whenever I lose, it’s just part of the game. I just had to learn from that.
Phiona, you’re definitely an inspiration. What advice would you give to a young girl that’s scared of stepping out?
Phiona: Well, what I know, it’s not, like, as well problems- I’ll say, most people when they’re having problems, it just takes hope. Have hope in everything you’re doing, and just be hard working, and just approve yourself; you feel like, ‘No, I don’t wanna be like this’. Have a dream, I want to be this in my life.
What has surprised you the most in bringing your story to the big screen?
Robert: I would say the whole experience was quite surprising because it’s something which I could never have imagined in my life. And two, it just proved to me a sense of awareness that you get, encouragement of what you’re doing because you step out to do this and I will find myself doing just that without even knowing that it could be anything big.
And I’m so grateful for the ladies. It’s quite interesting that even this house is full of them. I have the trip, and I have a special place in my heart, right from my grandma, to my aunties, and I think it’s the actual reason why God has given me my little task.
QUEEN OF KATWE is rated PG in theaters now.
I was invited to attend a hosted event courtesy of Disney and ABC. Opinions are my own. Photo images of Phiona and Robert courtesy of AllMommyWants.com.