Nikita Pearl Waligwa, Star of Disney’s 'Queen of Katwe,' Dies at 15

Disney
Nikita Pearl Waligwa

The young actress was best known for her role in the 2016 Disney film starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo about a chess prodigy from a Ugandan slum.

Nikita Pearl Waligwa, the young actress who starred in the 2016 film Queen of Katwe, has died at the age of 15. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016, according to Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor.

Waligwa was best known for her role in the Disney pic about a chess prodigy from a Ugandan slum. Queen of Katwe was based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a 9-year-old chess player who famously competed in international tournaments.

Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo starred in the film, in which Waligwa played the role of Phiona's friend Gloria, who explained the rules of chess to her.

Oyelowo paid tribute to the young star on his social media, calling Waligwa a "ball of light."

"We mourn the loss of our beautiful Nikita Pearl Waligwa," he captioned a photo of the actress via Instagram on Sunday. "She was a ball of light in @queenofkatwemovie and in life. Her battle with a brain tumor was humbling to witness. Her light will live on. #rip"

Nyong'o also mourned Waligwa on Instagram on Sunday, writing in part, "My thoughts and prayers are with her family and community as they come to terms with having to say goodbye so soon. May she truly rest in piece. May it be well with her soul."

After Waligwa was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016, Queen of Katwe director Mira Nair reportedly mobilized to help fund treatment for the young actress in India.

The Daily Monitor reported that although Waligwa was deemed tumor-free in 2017, another tumor was found last year. At the time of her death, Waligwa was a student at Gayaza High School in Uganda.

The high school also paid tribute to Waligwa following the news, writing "rest in perfect peace dear."

Feb. 16, 12:31 p.m. Updated with statements from Oyelowo and Gayaza High School.

Feb. 17, 10:23 a.m. Updated with Lupita Nyong'o's Instagram post about Waligwa.