From Katwe to Shotwell- PNN Reviews4theReVolution Review of the Queen of Katwe

Tiny - Posted on 10 October 2016

Alot of things are said about Global South Poverty- mostly by Global North akademiks, Peace-Corp types and like my Mama Dee used to say, peoples who have never missed a meal, about how that is where "the real poverty is". These questions rushed into my mind when i tiptoed into the new movie Queen of Katwe-directed by director Mira Nair, and produced by the kkkorporate monolith Disney. As i sat in the dark waiting for idiotic previews to end, i wondered nervously if Mira had souled out or if Disney had been infiltrated by a little bit of truth.

"You have your mama's strength," says Robert Katende ( played with so much love by David Oyelowo), to burgeoning chess champion10-year-old Phiona (newcomer and powerful actress Madina Nalwanga) in one of many very lushly filmed scenes that shows Phiona beginning to drink the coolaid of "success" and turn her back on her fierce and in struggle mama (played with the subtle but heart-breaking sorrow of all of our collective mamas by Lupita Nyong’o), which her teacher/coach Robert advises her strongly against, one of many moments that sold me on this beautiful movie.

This movie is many things, but at its most Western digestible, its a story of a child and her family coming out of extreme poverty aka a "slum" known as Katwe, built along an open sewer, with no running water, causing Phiona to show up the first day at chess practice, smelling like the sewer, in a global south country (Uganda) and "making it" through mastering chess. This is a story told often and for the gain of the korporate capitalist system. Promoting what i call the "away nation" ( leaving your family and land of origin to attain so-called success), the cult of success itself and the concept that the acquisition of blood stained dollars, or Euros or any colonizer currency brings  ultimate happiness to billions of poor children across Mama Earth, without ever questioning the deep and intentional ways that poverty is kept in place, who gains from it and how it continues so strongly even thought it is so violent and deadly .

Disney created a shiny preview package that sold the movie in those digestible chunks as though it was that simple. But what threw me was it was not. Herein lies the infiltration by Mira Nair. Not that it was anything large or any deep investigation into these issues, but the subtle questions of education for the elite class only, the self-determination of a small group of poor peoples and the embracing not awaying of indigenous family were really at the core of this movie.

"The terror of a mama not being able to feed her child because of poverty is the same terror no matter where in the world you are," said my Mama dee many times as we discussed global versus local poverty. Throughout the movie i was reduced to convulsive tears as i watched a mama try to navigate an underground, street-based economy of vending  to feed her 3 young children, a money based hellthcare and housing system that had her dragging her sun out of the hospital when he was barely able to walk and getting evicted from her tiny shack because she had to spend the money from the chess earnings for the ride to the hospital and ultimately end up homeless.

These viscious circles are so real and any of my fellow poverty skolaz, welfareQUEEN, mamas or daddys will relate. In our case, me and mama were vendors in a street based economy, we began this business when i was 11 years old, and my mama was laid off from her job and became disabled, it was necessary i drop out of the mans skoo to work full-time to support us. We had no hellthcare, except a thin version of medical and had to lie all the time to get dental and medical treatment and was constantly being evicted for inability to pay the rent, causing us to be in and out of homelessness throughout my childhood.

The lure of an "easier life" was constantly looming for Phiona because of her prowess at chess, but because of the poverty scholarship of the Coach Robert , who himself had lost his mama and struggled to get through the cult of scholarships to achieve an education, refused to let her fall into that trap, lifting up the whole family and holding them all in a vision of self-determination and collective success.

In the end, the vision of "success" wasn't that Phiona made it, but that they all made it, which is always the ways of our indigenous peoples working and living interdependently - not independently, the answer of one person achieving the notion of individual sucess, is a false one that only perpetuates the pimping and destroying of one persons soul and in the end leaves them used and confused and alone.

My only critique of the narrative, is the idea that education, which also was shown as as elitist because poor people couldnt afford the tuition or the uniforms required to go, being seen as the only way to success. I get it that because the colonizer defines education and rules everything, it is in many ways the only way to make it, but what is so beautiful, is this movie also showed that even with education, the class and corrupt patronage system still ruled where and how you could get employment. And that in the end the real education also came from the streets, from mama and from the strategies of the game of life and the game of chess

I would highly recommend this movie to all people, but specifically for mothers and daughters, mothers and suns in struggle, struggling with the lie that s perpetuated so massively in a capitalist system and the deep revolution of poor and indigenous peoples love for each other in communities forced into poverty from Compton to Katwe.


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