Toronto: Trailblazing 'Queen of Katwe' Charms Fest

Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair's live-action family dramedy about a chess prodigy from Uganda's slums that Disney will release on Sept. 30, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend and was very warmly received.

The film is charming, thanks largely to William Wheeler's screenplay, which he based on an ESPN Magazine article by Tim Crothers about Phiona Mutesi, a teen chess master. It features strong acting, not only by David Oyelowo as the girl's coach and Lupita Nyong'o as her mother, but also from a host of child actors, especially Madina Nalwanga, who plays the lead. (Nyong'o was an intern at Nair's production company before becoming a 2014 Oscar winner.) And it's groundbreaking: To my knowledge, no other live-action Disney film has featured an all-black cast or been set and shot in Africa.

But, at the end of the day, Katwe is less likely to resonate with the Academy (which has never been known for its childlike wonder or sense of humor) than it is to turn young moviegoers into slightly more worldly people (Disney apparently has likened it to its 1993 hit Cool Runnings, which seems about right to me). So why bring it to Toronto, a launching pad for Oscar hopefuls? I suppose the prospect of accumulating some favorable buzz, for a movie unlike any other that has recently gotten a nationwide release, was too alluring to pass up for a studio that, to its credit, took a gamble on this one.

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