Disney has scheduled Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe” for a limited debut on September 23, 2016 followed by an expansion a week later. The awards-friendly release date suggests that the studio is confident that the Uganda-set drama has strong potential to make its presence felt come awards season.
The film is an adaptation of the 2012 nonfiction book “The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion.” The story centers on Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), an international chess sensation who hails from the slums of Uganda. When she is nine-years-old, Phiona meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo, “Selma”), a refugee and missionary who seeks to empower children by teaching them to play chess.
With Robert and her community’s support, Phiona becomes a major contender on the chess scene, and dreams of becoming a Grandmaster, the highest level of achievement in chess. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) plays Harriet, Phiona’s mother.
Nair unveiled a clip from “Queen of Katwe” in at the Athena Film Festival in February, when the “Monsoon Wedding” helmer was honored with the 2016 Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award. The footage featured Phiona’s fateful first meeting with Robert, when she accidentally stumbled upon his chess class while searching for food.
Lydia Dean Pilcher (“The Darjeeling Limited”) and John Carls (“Where The Wild Things Are”) produced “Queen of Katwe.” Pilcher collaborated with Women and Hollywood on the Ms. Factor Toolkit: The Power of Female Driven Content, a compilation of data that makes the economic case for women-centric and women-created content.