Directed by Mira Nair, written by William Wheeler and co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, the film is an adaptation of the novel The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers, which is an biography of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who rose from a poverty-stricken community to become a world chess champion. Newcomer Madina Nalwanga was cast as Phiona, with Lupita Nyong'o playing her mother, Harriet, and David Oyelowo playing her chess teacher, Robert.
The official synopsis reads:
For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet, is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende, a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.
- Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi, a 10-year-old girl with a natural talent for chess
- David Oyelowo as Robert Katende, a missionary who teaches chess to Phiona
- Lupita Nyong'o as Harriet Mutesi, Phiona's mother
- Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Tendo
- Esteri Tebandeke as Sara Katende
- Taryn Kyaze as Night
- Russel Savadier as the Russian Chess Official
- Charity Rose Pimer
Director Mira Nair decided to adapt The Queen of the Katwe book into a film after making a documentary about the life of the man who trained Phiona Mutesi, Robert Katende. The film was entirely shot in Uganda and South Africa.
Describing the film, Nyong'o said: "This is a story about the commitment to a dream even in the most discouraging of situations. The slum of Katwe is a very difficult place to live, but you see these people living there with dignity and making it day by day. And so to go there and to have that environment to work from really did sober us and enliven us."
- Ugandan fashion mogul, Sylvia Owori, bought her way into the film as an extra at an auction that acted as a fundraiser for Maisha Film Labs. Other prizes included a 12 Years a Slave DVD signed by Lupita Nyong'o.
- The film is rumoured to introduce a lot of fresh talent with regards to young actors required for the film. A mixture of South African and Ugandan youth are to be cast in various roles.
- The title of the film originally had the article "The" in the beginning of it, just as the title of the book the movie is based on. It can be clearly seen in the original logo of the film (see the Disney D23 2015 announcement photos in the Gallery above).
- This is Lupita Nyong'o's 2nd role for a Disney film released in 2016. The first being The Jungle Book (2016 film).