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Exclusive Interview with Director Mira Nair: Queen Of Katwe Opens Everywhere September 30th

Photo Credit: Carol from
Disney’s Queen Of Katwe opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow, September 30th!  While in Los Angeles earlier this month, I along with 24 other bloggers had the chance to interview the Director of the film, Mira Nair.  Mira entered the room with a huge, inviting smile on her face and thanked us for attending the junket.  She is warm, kind and her passion for the film was very evident!  Not only is she all these qualities but she is also one of the most interesting interviews I’ve witnessed.  Seriously, every person in the room hung on her every word and before we knew it, the interview was over. Nooo!  I wanted to know more, more!  Here is some highlights of that interview, enjoy!


On Becoming Involved In The Project
I’ve been living in Kampala now 27 years, ever since I made Mississippi Masala there in 1989 and started my life there, fell in love and had a son and planted gardens and created a film school called Maisha. The slogan of Maisha is if we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will. And because there are so few images of African on any screen anywhere and when there are, it’s usually, death, despair, dictators. So, we created the school, because we have to make the dignity and the joy of everyday life in our street in Kampala, anywhere. Be local. Be truthful. And be excellent. But it was such irony that despite my being surrounded by local stories for 12 years — we had 680 alumni students now, we have several directors we have created from East Africa — that this story of Phiona Mutesi, who lived 15 minutes from home — I did not know about her. I knew about her because, a young man from this building, Tendo Nagenda, who’s a Ugandan, came to see me in my garden in Kampala when he was at a family reunion about four years ago. He showed me this little article about Phiona in the ESPN journal, about this child who sold corn in Katwe, who now was heading to becoming a chess prodigy and going to the Olympics in Russia. And I was completely struck by the story.
On Meeting Phiona And Her Family
I met her funnily enough in New York City, I lived half my time in Uganda and half the time in New York, and Phiona was playing chess in New York. I met her there with Robert Katende, and we had such a lovely connection instantly, because we are Ugandan and we were joking, slanging, everything. I then met asked to meet Harriet and spent a lot of time with Harriet who took me just below where I lived is where she was evicted when her husband died. We spent the day just going from one place to another where she had been with her four kids, at abandoned church, veranda of a little vendor stand, a shop somewhere, finally a little room. I mean like when I saw the trajectory of actually the struggle, you know, the homelessness, the struggle and her fierceness to keep her family together against absolutely every odds there was, it just was so deeply moving and great, because she was full of courage and full of pragmatism. She was not a defeated woman by any means and to have a house at the end of it by her daughter’s earnings, you know.


Photo Credit: Carol from
On The Challenges Of Bringing The Story To Life


The most beautiful challenge was to distill the love and familiarity I have with my own home, my adopted home of Uganda, the people, the sassiness, the vibrancy and the style. Kampala is the center of used clothing in the world to give you an example. Clothes come in by weight and there’s that market called Owino where Lupita goes as Harriet to sale her mother’s garment. That is the market. Everyone dresses from that. So, the emphasis on smartness and cleanliness and going to school is massive, regardless of what you have.


The other sweet challenge was filming chess. It’s really a challenge to film chess, because it’s a highly intellectual game. And it’s about strategizing and making moves, and how can I as a visual filmmaker, as a visualist, make chess interesting? They were real games, real moves that Phiona was famous for. It wasn’t a made-up situation. So, Sean Bobbitt, our cinematographer, and myself really looked at every game as a unique visual challenge. We filmed every game differently from the other. And that was a challenge, because there’s only so many things you can do with the chess board. But how to create chess so that it can be emotional, dramatic, and propulsive, you know, propel the story forward and yet not bore you to death.  That was a challenge.


On The Snap
The snap it’s such a lifist example. One of the producers, when I was doing it, I would say snap now, Benjamin, now snap now. I liked it. It was like checkmate. And, one time somebody even tapped me and said, Mira, I think you’re going for too many snaps. I said, no, you wait. And it’d be the catchiest thing. ‘Cause I’m a shameless populist. I like to put, bombs on seats, you know. I like to entertain you. And this is the spirit of our people. Don’t feel sorry for me. Touché, you know.
Photo Credit: Carol from
How The Film Has Impacted The People Of Katwe
We were waiting with our eyes for sure. One is because it is my home. That is where I live. I’m not gonna run away, you know. So, we have been doing several things. One is we ran a green set, an ecological set, which is unheard of there, because plastic is so awful. So, we turned everything into a recycled sort of heaven. We also worked with the community of Katwe. We called it the Legacy Project while we were shooting, which is all shot in Katwe and the real places anyway to ask what the community needed. And it was decided with the elders of the community that toilets, public toilets were the big thing. So, we have a project with Disney to build a whole series of public toilets in Katwe, just a small example. But then recently they had just purchased land and a building in Katwe to house permanently the Chess Academy which has just gone through happened. We have an educational fund for all the pioneers in the film, to university is the idea.
It’s a very complicated and very excellent endeavor, because, like in life, education is the cornerstone. And in Kampala, it’s a big emphasis. People knock on your door every day for school fees, because whatever it is you must go to school. So, the education of our kids is vital. And lastly in our film school, Maisha, which is now become a community interdisciplinary school for the community we are building the last phase of the physical school, hopefully with Disney’s help, which creates a open-air community theater and audio visual library, because that is what is not there. There is no libraries. There are no books. There’s certainly no visual situation. So that is what I’m appealing for. So, because it is impossible for us to have done this thing and made this film and not care about what happens in the future, because the whole film is as much as it is about the present, it is about the future of our kids.



Queen of Katwe open in select theaters NOW and in theaters everywhere September 30th!!
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