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Interview With Phiona Mutesi & Robert Katende: Real Life Inspirations Of Queen Of Katwe

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Disney’s Queen Of Katwe opens in theaters everywhere TODAY, September 30th!
It’s been an honor these past few years, to be given the opportunity to interview actors/actresses, movie producers, directors, animators and other talent from movies and television shows.  When I found out I, along with 24 other bloggers, were going to interview Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende, the real life inspirations of Queen of Katwe; I was flabbergasted.  Never in my life did I imagine, I would have the chance to meet and interview such inspirational individuals.  So much so, the world took notice and created a movie based on their journey from the slums of Uganda to championship chess tournaments.  They are two very remarkable individuals and I was waiting with anticipation for the interview to begin!
Phiona and Robert entered the room with sincere smiles on their faces, beautiful bright colored clothing, and spoke with a gentle and quiet nature.  I would describe them as humble but I do not think it does them justice.  They are humble, grateful, inspiring, and completely in awe of the impact their story has made on the world.  When asked how they were feeling, Phiona responds, “I cannot believe it.  I just cannot believe it.”  After meeting them and watching their story, I can believe it.  I just cannot believe I had the honor of meeting THEM!  Here are some highlights from the interview:

Photo Credit: Carol from
Life Lessons We Can Learn From Chess
Robert Katende: There are several, actually, just generally in life and there are many values that we meet on a daily basis in our lives; In a child’s life you can involve them well to the platform of chess. You can tackle abstractive thinking, problem solving, decision making, weighing options, and even responsibility because chess kind of mentors you in finding value and where you have to get comfortable with your decisions, and don’t simply make moves. You should have a plan, you should have an objective, an activity objective. It gives you an opportunity to where you can have ideas and try to figure out how to bring them to reality. So you must get input in the integration of these values and principles from the game into your lifestyle.
On The Movie Queen of Katwe and Phiona’s Experiences Thus Far
Phiona Mutesi: I liked it when I saw it. I couldn’t think that I was watching myself. But it was my first time in the big theater. I was on the Red Carpet; I think it was just my first time. I’ve never been in such a situation. But I’m like, come into that, I feel like I shouldn’t be there, like, shouldn’t it be someone else.
On Bringing Their Story To The Big Screen
Robert Katende: I would say the whole experience was quite surprising because it’s something which I could never have imagined in my life. It just proved to me a sense of awareness that you get encouragement of what you’re doing because you step out to do this and I will find myself just doing that without even knowing, that it could be anything big, even in the country itself. So to me, that was remarkable. When I look back to my childhood… This morning, in fact, when I was at the hotel, I was trying to calm down, and I was trying to go through the whole country now will try to ask, where is Robert? And yet before, I remember the times when I would even call radio stations seeking for support for education, and no one would ever bother.


Photo Credit: Carol from


Phiona’s Advice To Young Girls
Phiona Mutesi: I’ll say, most people when they’re having problems, it just takes hope. Have hope in everything you’re doing, and just be hard working, and just approve about yourself; you feel like, no, I don’t wanna be like this. Have a dream, I want to be this in my life. So that’s really it,  don’t want to be like this.
On Working With Madina Nalwanga & David Oyelowo
Phiona Mutesi: Well, I wasn’t on set. I met Madina once. We talked, and when I talked to Madina, she came late; She was kind of similar but kind of a different. I ended up coaching her. And with Mira [Nair], she’s been coming to the academy. We like her.


Robert Katende: I had an opportunity to really not do much, but I think I did more from the start. It’s really very happy watching and, even on set, I think to me, it was more intimidating. That was a big challenge but, it was very free; very open, and he [David] would come to me, asking every time, “Robert, anything you can find that is not in line, let me know.” And then even before he goes for a scene, he would come and say, “Robert, how do you say this? ” So I’d just go through his lines; what would you say to Sara because you are in this situation? So he wanted to know this to make sure that he’s in line with everything. Yeah, and, it was really in the celebration but, in most cases he was really trying to find out. In this celebration part when, Phiona won the tournament, I’m not fond of dancing, so I think I did give him an opportunity to.
About The Pioneers Chess Academy
Robert Katende: I started, in 2002 and, it really started stabilizing in 2004. There were six kids, I have six and I’ve been dealing with them for over twelve years now. The way I keep some of them, in the age, like Phiona, one year and a half. She was nine, and now she’s twenty. So they have now become young adults. When I took them they had not even schooling. He’s now qualified as a physics and math teacher. He’s now, he’s just graduating, June, commencing, Benjamin. Phiona, she’s just completing high school to go to university next year. So it’s really a remarkable journey, for me to see them. And, besides they have professional kind of goals, they are naturally becoming leaders.


And they reach out to the program, like Phiona, it’s not just like coincidence, but it’s like a strategy on starting to give them some sense of responsibility, and then also enabling them to realize that they have something that they can offer at even their lower level. So they are naturally should grow. Right now, I sit, and we instruct and we plan together with the kids who were the kids, we just sit and plan, and the consequence, we can do this, and so I will get on this, and then they bring their report.


I’m so grateful because I kind of see myself like I have not planned. Like, even right now, we are weighing all this with over eight kids packed in.


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Parting Words of Wisdom
Robert Katende: Fear hinders a lot, especially the children, they have nothing to relate to. So it’s more like, you step out. You be there first. You take that responsibility. Then the question now is, what do you think is going to change us? Ask the person, what’s going to change this turnaround, to make this happen. You start to instill a sense of discipline and responsibility. You need to see it from their perspective.
Phiona Mutesi: Whenever I lose, it’s just part of the game. I just had to learn from that.


Queen of Katwe NOW in theaters everywhere!!
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