Born: abt 1996
Birthplace: Katwe, Kampala, Uganda
Born: April 1, 1976
Oxford, England, UK
Birthplace: Kiboga, Uganda
Born: March 1, 1983
Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Mexico
Born: abt 1969
Birthplace: Seeta, Uganda
Like most people in Katwe, Phiona does not know it. Birthdays are not recorded anywhere. Few people have calendars and most don't know the date or day of the week. Clocks are a luxury. -ESPN The Magazine
Yes. The Queen of Katwe true story reveals that Phiona Mutesi's sister died just weeks after they buried her father. "After the funeral my family stayed in the village for a few weeks, and one morning when I woke up, my older sister, Juliet, told me she was feeling a headache. We got some herbs and gave them to her, and then she went to sleep. The following morning we found her dead in the bed. That's what I remember," says Phiona. -ESPN The Magazine
Phiona grew up in the slums of Katwe, a crime-ridden area in the capital city of Kampala, Uganda. The East-African country is the second most populous landlocked country following Ethiopia.
Yes. Phiona's mother Harriet, portrayed by Lupita Nyong'o in the Queen of Katwe movie, worries that her constant illnesses are because she's HIV-positive. She's too scared to get tested. Phiona's father passed away from AIDS when she was 3. Phiona hasn't been tested either. -ESPN The Magazine
Yes. Phiona's mother, Harriet Mutesi, woke up at 2 a.m. to trek 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) to buy vegetables, including eggplants and avocados, which Phiona sometimes helped her resell at a street market when she wasn't looking after her siblings (ESPN The Magazine). Eventually, all the kids helped. "The children and I would all go to the street to sell maize," Harriet told NTV Uganda.
Yes. The Queen of Katwe true story confirms that Phiona nearly died when she was 8 years old. Her mother Harriet believes that she had malaria. After begging for money from her sister, Harriet took Phiona to the hospital and doctors removed fluid from Phiona's spine after she lost consciousness. Two days later she was awake and began to recover. -ESPN The Magazine
Like in the movie, Phiona was introduced to chess at age 9 after secretly following her brother Brian to a meeting of the Sports Outreach Institute, a Christian mission where she observed him playing chess. Missionary Robert Katende, portrayed by David Oyelowo in the movie, welcomed her and taught her how to play. Realizing the kids he was working with weren't all going to play soccer (partially because the parents couldn't afford medical bills for injuries), Katende taught them chess, which he had mastered when he was younger. The lessons took place inside of Agape Sanctuary, a loosely put together church with a listing roof and crumbling walls. At the chess board, everyone was equal. Class, income and education didn't matter. The program had grown to 25 kids when Phiona joined. "I started playing against girls and boys," says Phiona, "then I started beating the boys."
The movie goes on to draw parallels to how the game reflects Phiona's life. One example is Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) liking the act of "Queening" because a pawn survives and makes it all the way across the board, becoming a Queen. The real Phiona Mutesi drew such parallels to her own life as well. -Silent Images Documentary
Yes. "I'm so happy to have Coach Robert as my coach," Phiona said in 2010 at age 15. "He teaches me about chess and God. He has prepared me well for Russia. Every day Coach Robert and I train to make me a better chess player." -Silent Images Documentary
Yes. His educational background was in engineering, specializing in civil, IT, and computer engineering. Early on he hoped to find better paying work in one of those fields, but unlike the movie, by the time he met Phiona he had already realized his calling was to be a missionary/coach. A bastard child born in the village of Kiboga, just outside Kampala, Uganda, Robert had worked his way out of the slums and made it to the university. His skill at soccer helped him to receive an education and make a little money as a player after he graduated.
His coach told him about a job with the Sports Outreach Institute, a Christian mission. "I taught myself to be a sports missionary," says Robert, "because I use sports to mend and transform lives, mainly of children who are facing some tragedies in life. Having personally gone through such hard life, I realized that it was by the grace of God to be who I am, so I decided to just invest in the children who are facing the same tragedies I had faced" (NTV). He first worked as a missionary soccer coach before deciding to also teach chess. -ESPN The Magazine
Coach Robert Katende realized Phiona was a prodigy and had a gift when she started to beat him. He then took her outside the slums and she defeated the privileged boarding-school kids and then the university players. In 2007, she won the Uganda women's junior championship when she was 11. She took the title the following two years until the Uganda Chess Federation ran out of money to stage the event the fourth year. Like in the movie, Phiona has the gift of seeing as many as eight moves ahead. The proof of this is evident by her success as a player. "When I play chess I'm not afraid," Phiona said. "I know that I can win. It doesn't matter if my opponent is a girl, or a boy, or a man, I'm sure I can win" (Silent Images Documentary).
Yes. In researching the Queen of Katwe true story, we learned that some of the real-life locations were used for the filming, including Agape Church (Sanctuary), the ramshackle structure where Robert Katende taught Phiona how to play chess. "Being in Uganda, in the church in Katwe, in the slum that the real Phiona Mutesi emerged from, makes you feel the challenges they faced and the uniqueness of who they are," says actor David Oyelowo, who plays Katende in the movie. According to director Mira Nair, "The city of Kampala and the slum of Katwe are themselves characters in the movie. We used many of the real locations there." Other scenes were shot in South Africa, a country whose infrastructure is more condusive to filming and that Nair says has "the simple architecture and the red earth" that the production needed. -NYTimes.com
Yes. The tournament was held in Sudan and it was the first time that Phiona had been out of Katwe. She was victorious in all four of her matches, as were her two teammates, Ivan and Benjamin, earning their country the team championship. The trip itself was just as overwhelming as the victory. Flying above the clouds, she wondered if the plane was going to reach Heaven. The hotel marked the first time she ever had her own bed or a flushing toilet. Holding a menu was the first time she ever had a choice of what to eat at a meal. "I could never have imagined this world I was visiting," remarked Phiona. "I felt like a queen." -ESPN The Magazine
Yes, even more so than what is shown in the movie. Phiona believes that her talent as a chess player is a precious gift from God. She prays daily. Her coach, Robert Katende, taught her about both God and chess. -Silent Images Documentary
No, Mira Nair was born in India, but she has had a home in Phiona's birthplace of Kampala, Uganda for more than two decades, so she is very familiar with the area (Variety.com). Nair is married to a Ugandan academic and she has also founded a film school there called Maisha (NYTimes.com). She cast Kampala locals to play Phiona's three oldest siblings, strengthening the movie's connection to the Queen of Katwe true story (The Hollywood Reporter). Before becoming an actress, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Phiona's mother Harriet, had worked for Mira Nair's production company in New York. Nyong'o then went on to hold an administrative position at Nair's film school in Kampala. "I learned I'd rather be a participant when I acted in one of the films the students made," said Nyong'o (NYTimes.com).
"[Chess] has given me an opportunity to go back to school," Phiona told CNN's News Room in 2014. "Chess gave me hope, where by now I'm having a hope of becoming a doctor, and I'm having now a hope of becoming a grandmaster." She went on to earn the title of candidate master after competing in a world championship in Turkey. Phiona's mother Harriet has been able to move her family into a permanent home (pictured below). "Life has changed so much," says Harriet. "We never really had a home to call our own. We would move from place to place. We have a home and land to cultivate. Unlike before when life was really hard. My children are all in school now. I thank God for this life" (UTV).
Learn more about the Queen of Katwe true story by watching a Phiona Mutesi interview and documentary below. Also view a Robert Katende documentary directed by Queen of Katwe director Mira Nair.