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Learn the real story of real-life chess champion Phiona Mutesi before seeing 'Queen of Katwe'

Shanee Edwards is a screenwriter who earned her master's degree at UCLA Film School. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her TV pilot, Ada and the Machine, is cur...

#1/17:

African queen

Disney
#1/17:

African queen

The new film from Disney tells the inspirational story of a young girl who changed her destiny through chess.

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Article for 'ESPN'

Jaime Espinoza/WENN
#3/17:

Article for 'ESPN'

Film producer Jim Carl first learned of Robert Katende’s work after he read an article in ESPN magazine by Tim Crothers. Katende taught chess to the children of the slums by offering them a cup of porridge if they would first sit and learn the game. Crothers later turned the article into the book The Queen of Katwe.

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The real Robert Katende

Disney
#4/17:

The real Robert Katende

Nine-year-old Phiona Mutesi would never have learned to play chess if it weren't for Robert Katende (David Oyelowo in the movie). Trained as a civil engineer, the only job Katende could find was as a soccer coach for a faith-based organization called Sports Outreach. For the kids who couldn't play soccer, he developed a chess club in a ramshackle Agape church. Chess teaches many skills, including abstract thinking and problem-solving.

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Phiona discovers chess

Disney
#5/17:

Phiona discovers chess

In an interview with MSN.com, Mutesi said she first became interested in learning chess simply because she was hungry and could get a free cup of porridge if she played chess at Katende's club. But then, after the first time she beat a boy at the game, “I got more interested in the game. Then I wanted to beat more guys and more guys.”

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Reason Phiona smelled bad

Disney
#6/17:

Reason Phiona smelled bad

When Phiona shows up at the church in the film, the other kids are reluctant to teach her how to play chess because she stinks to high heaven. In real life, Mutesi had a strategy behind her stench. "Phiona smelled so badly that nobody wanted to be near her. But that was her way to not get molested in the street," said Christian missionary Rodney Suddith in Newsweek

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Fool's Mate

Disney
#7/17:

Fool's Mate

When Mutesi began to learn chess, a boy named Joseph (Edgar Kanyike in the movie) easily outwitted her using a move called Fool's Mate, also known as the two-move checkmate. One day Katende taught Mutesi how to avoid this trap before Joseph arrived. Because she was trying so hard to defend her pieces against the Fool's Mate strategy, she didn't realize she had checkmated Joseph until he burst into tears. Mutesi was very proud to have beaten a boy in chess.

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Had never seen ice

Disney
#8/17:

Had never seen ice

Before going to Siberia to compete in the international Chess Olympiad, Mutesi had never seen ice, let alone snow. The airplane on which she flew to Russia and the elevator she rode at her hotel were all first-time experiences. So was ordering food from a menu.

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All-you-can-eat buffet

Disney
#9/17:

All-you-can-eat buffet

While at her hotel in Russia, Mutesi discovered the all-you-can-eat buffet. Coming from an environment where she had so little food, Phiona literally got sick after overeating the first couple of days.

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Fear of 'white man's game'

Disney
#10/17:

Fear of 'white man's game'

Because Katende was part of an organization run by white people, called mzungu in Uganda, Phiona's mom, Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) became fearful for her daughter. "My neighbors told me that chess was a white man's game and that if I let Phiona keep going there to play, that mzungu would take her away. But I could not afford to feed her. What choice did I have?" said Harriet Mutesi.

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Father died of AIDS

Disney
#11/17:

Father died of AIDS

Mutesi's real life has been full of loss. "I remember I went to my dad's village when I was about 3 years old to see him when he was very sick, and a week later he died of AIDS," she said in an interview. "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."

#12/17:

A reason for hope

Jaime Espinoza/WENN
#12/17:

A reason for hope

"Before I met Robert and started playing chess, I had lost all hope. I was sad because I recently lost my dad and there was no money for school, and I thought I would always be living on the streets. Since then, I have traveled to many different countries and met many wonderful people who I never expected to meet, which has helped restore my hope. I thank God that I met Robert and learned to play chess, because it is chess that made all these things possible," Mutesi said in press materials.

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Casting Phiona

Disney
#13/17:

Casting Phiona

It took the filmmakers over a year to find an actress to play Phiona. They auditioned 700 girls from the U.K., South Africa and East Africa. Finally they found 14-year-old Madina Nalwanga, who lived just 15 minutes away from Katwe, studying at a nearby dance academy. Director Mira Nair then spent six weeks refining Nalwanga’s acting chops. But it wasn’t difficult for Nalwanga to play Phiona, given that she'd also sold corn on the streets until the owner of the dance academy rescued her. "Phiona’s story is like my story. Her background is like my background, but for her it was chess that changed everything, and for me it was dancing and singing," said Nalwanga in press materials.

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A true African tale

Disney
#14/17:

A true African tale

Born and raised in England, David Oyelowo is of Nigerian descent and is thrilled to see an uplifting story finally come out of Africa. "As a Nigerian, I’m frustrated by how little we see of the real face of Africa in Western movies, how we’re always confronted with the dark side — dictators, genocide, disease — when I know this continent is filled with tremendous stories of hope, triumph, love and joy. This was one of those stories filmed in Africa, played by Africans and filmed by a woman who has lived on the continent for nearly 30 years, so I knew we were in good hands," said Oyelowo in press materials.

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Why Mutesi didn't come to set

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Why Mutesi didn't come to set

In an interview, Nyong’o revealed why Mutesi didn’t visit the set of Queen of Katwe while they were filming. "I admire Phiona because she didn’t come to set, and you know why? Because she was in school. Here we are, we’re telling her story, which is her history, and she has her whole future ahead of her, and she understands that, and she is fiercely committed, and I think she gets that from her mother."

#16/17:

College bound

Jaime Espinoza/WENN
#16/17:

College bound

Now 20, Mutesi graduated from St. Mbuga Vocational Secondary School in 2016, where she was student body president. She now has Harvard in her sights and wants to become either a doctor or a lawyer.

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A house for Mom

#17/17:

A house for Mom

With the money she earned from chess, Mutesi was able to buy her mother a house. "When we got money in chess, we talked with my coach. We talked about it then, and the only best thing we can do is just to buy a house. We bought a piece of land. She was so excited during that time. So I think that's the best thing I like in chess and I've gained in chess right now," she said in an interview with ABC.

Queen of Katwe opens in theaters today.

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