Queen of Katwe’s Lupita Nyong’o: "You Don’t Have to Be from a Big Place to Do Big Things”

Lupita Nyong'o of Queen of Katwe 
Photo: Matthew Brookes

Lupita Nyong’o’s latest film, Queen of Katwe, has an inspiring message that the Oscar winner says hooked her from from day one.

“This film means a lot to me because it’s a positive story from Uganda—a part of the world that doesn’t often get that,” says Nyong’o, who was raised in nearby Kenya. “It was close to home for me.” The movie—based on a true story—follows a young girl and chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her eventual journey from Katwe, a shantytown in Kampala.

“It’s really about a girl that pursues her dream against all odds,” says Nyong’o. “My hope is that other young women see this and know that you don’t have to be from a big place to do big things.” In the film, Nyong’o plays the girl’s mother, which was a first for her. “It was a really cool challenge because she’s not just any mother. She’s a teenage mother of five, who is trying so hard to keep her family together and provide for them in a world that makes it quite difficult for her to do so.”

Lupita Nyong'o and Madina Nalwanga star in the triumphant true story QUEEN OF KATWE, directed by Mira Nair.
Edward Echwalu

Nyong’o also shares the screen with Selma actor David Oyelowo, who stars as the girl’s teacher and chess coach. “I had to learn to play chess for the role,” says Oyelowo. “But most of my research was hanging out with the real life teacher Robert Katende. We all had direct access to the people we were playing, so it was great for me that he was there everyday.”

Queen of Katwe - Embed 1
Matthew Brookes

Oyelowo and Nyong’o were also the only main cast members that were not originally from Uganda. “Being around all of the Ugandan kids was huge for us in terms of building authenticity,” he says. “But really this is not just an African story. It’s a universal one. You can discover ingenuity and genius anywhere.”

Queen of Katwe is in theaters now. Check out the trailer below.

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