My reaction to Queen of Katwe and the important social issues it raises
I finally saw Queen of Katwe and was deeply moved. And I'm not just saying this as someone who loves chess. I'm saying this as someone who loves humanity. The film explored so many important global issues, offered so many beautiful life lessons, and the acting was exceptional. It's nice to see Disney making important movies like this.
Hopefully it'll achieve at least a few things: (1) bring more awareness to Africa, (2) bring more awareness to chess, (3) bring more awareness to issues surrounding poverty, (4) get more women involved in chess in order to (5) close the gender gap that exists, as it does in many games/sports.
Given that (inappropriate) behavior toward women has been raised in this election (no need to shy away from it; on the contrary, to do so would be a disservice to those affected most harshly) the film could not have come at a better time. The film demonstrates both ways in which women are oppressed globally and ways in which women can be respected and valued for who they are by men, as seen in the relationship between Robert Katende (the chess coach) and his wife, Sara Katende, and the main character, Phiona Mutesi, for whom he became something of a father figure. Given that some of these topics can be sensitive -- particularly when it comes to the uncomfortable reality of prostitution -- and that this is a family film, undoubtedly seen by many children, I was impressed by the way in which the film handled these topics. Exposing youth to these issues earlier in life, and providing positive examples to counter them, can only be a good thing, lest youth walk into a complex world blind to these pressing issues and how they can be grappled with in productive ways. Or, worse, to further contribute to the problem.
I was also deeply moved as a chess coach and a chess player. The life lessons gleaned from the game are sometimes at their rawest, and Robert does a fantastic job of helping his students to arrive at those lessons. He lifts his students up when they are down and gives them hope. It was a powerful excercise to imagine what it must be like to play chess when so much is at stake -- when it became a way out of poverty for Ugandan villagers rather than a game of mere enjoyment and challenge for, say, an American urbanite like myself, where, yes, the game is utterly absorbing, but where it's always possible to maintain some distance from the game; where all is not on the line; where one or two bad tournaments does not mean a possible closing of a window of opportunity, in chess or otherwise. The empathy that this movie teaches, then, in so many respects, is essential.
Go see it if you haven't already! If you have, what did you think?