The Hidden Success Story Behind The Popular Movie


Sometimes, there is another story beyond what is seen in movies. There is often something underneath the surface. After months of reluctance, I finally decided to see the much publicized Disney movie, “Queen Of Katwe” yesterday. It was so emotional that I literally touched the reality behind the story. The movie was based on the true life story of Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the slums of Katwe in Uganda.

She caught the attention of the media after she represented Uganda in the Chess Olympiad in Russia and Turkey in 2010 and 2012 respectively. If you’ve not seen that 2016 movie by now, then you’re still as outdated as I was…Lol.

I decided to do a background check on the young girl who played the role of Phiona Mutesi. It was quite shocking to realise that the young girl who played this lead character had never acted before she got that role? I mean, she had never even gone for any drama audition prior to then. She was just a dancer in a community dance class in the slums where she came from.

Madina Nalwanga (Phiona), Martin Kabanza (Brian) at the Uganda premiere of Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” on Saturday, October 1, 2016 in Kampala.

She was still living in the slums as at when the film’s casting director saw her dancing. The movie director, Mira Nair wanted someone from a more noble neighborhood. The crew only decided to try her out due to their difficulty and inability of getting someone else who had their choice qualifications. It was what one would call a lucky trial born out of frustration.


When they saw her dancing, they called her over. She had sweat all over her, and I can guess she had an odour too. But that didn’t stop the casting director from asking her to recite a line in the movie twice. On the second trial, the words, her accent, facial expressions and the look in her eyes struck a cord in the hearts of the casting crew.

The next day, she and her friend from the slums who also tried out the lines were taken to a hotel, where they and about 700 other girls were auditioned for a slot in the movie.

Eventually, it was the two of them that were left to battle for the role of Phiona Mutesi, while others were screened out. A couple of other auditions finally saw her as the lead character for the Queen of Katwe.

Her name is Madinah Nalwanga of Uganda. From her slums, she has gone to California, Toronto and other amazing cities in the world. Her name was never relevant. She lived with her guardian, poverty was a lifestyle she was accustomed to. But everything changed in a twinkle of an eye.


Her story is just as inspiring as that of Phiona whose character she depicted. If an impoverished local girl who had lived her entire live in the slums could be transformed overnight, what makes you think you can’t hit stardom.

Madinah Nalwanga

Madinah Nawalga At “Queen Of Katwe” Première In Kampala [Photo Credit: JustJaredJr]

The movie was about chess, but she never knew how to play chess until after she got the role. But most people who have the talents, skills, resources, connection, fund and everything are still looking down on themselves.

Madinah knew she had to fight the claws of poverty. She knew that getting the role was a ticket to a life she could only have imagined. She was never qualified by virtue of acting experiences, yet she never failed to cease the opportunity. Grace was really at work in her.

Her story is a life changing lesson for me. Most people are still stagnant because they’ve failed to maximise opportunities. Sometimes, opportunities don’t come to your doorstep, you need to go and search for them. You might try and fail a dozen times, but keep trying. Headlines has no business with those who never made it. Your only chance of letting the world know how much you tried and persevered comes when you’ve risen from your defeats and limitations unto glory.

Your family background or lack of resources may be a deterrent, but a positive mind and determination is stronger than a rock. The more you sit idly doing nothing, the more unlikely it is for the world to hear your story.
There is still unharnessed gold in you.


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