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Chess Craze in Uganda Ahead of New Disney Movie About Prodigy Phiona Mutesi

July 26, 2016 at 09:00 am | Entertainment

Fredrick Ngugi

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

July 26, 2016 at 09:00 am | Entertainment

Ugandan kids playing chess outside their home in one of Uganda's largest slums Katwe. Photo (Aljazeera)

In many parts of Africa, the game of chess has for a long time been associated with a small section of the elite, mainly in the urban setting. But lately the game has taken over the streets of Uganda, with the young and old taking it up in significant numbers, according to Aljazeera.

Visit any slum in Uganda and you can’t miss a sight of a group of kids fully occupied with the game of chess as they try to outdo each other on boards balanced on rickety wooden benches, while their older neighbors watch.

The chess revolution in Uganda erupted back in 2013 when Walt Disney Pictures, an American film company, announced its plan to produce a feature film about Phiona Mutesi, a young and uneducated Ugandan girl from Katwe slums, who defied all odds to become an internationally acclaimed chess player.

Real Inspiration

The young chess prodigy from one of Uganda’s largest slums has inspired many young Ugandans, who now want to be like her.

It gives them (young Ugandans in the slum) hope. Chess used to be seen as a game of nobles, people who have been abroad or been to expensive schools. Now it’s attracting everyone,” Robert Katende, the founder of Katwe Chess Academy, told Aljazeera.

Phiona, also known as the Queen of Katwe, became the first female winner of Uganda’s junior chess championships at the age of 17. She then proceeded to represent Uganda in the international contests.

According to the Ugandan Chess Federation, a record 28 new chess clubs registered with the federation in 2015 alone, and the numbers are growing, with crowds at the national junior championships hitting the roof.

“We’re expecting an even bigger turnout this year. A lot of people are coming and asking how they can be involved,” said the president of Ugandan Chess Federation, Vianney Luggaya.

The Movie

In 2013, Disney announced that it would be documenting the life of Uganda’s chess female champion, Phiona Mutesi, in a feature film.

This announcement saw the popularity of chess explode across the country, with everyone striving to become a professional chess player.

The film, part of which was shot in Katwe slums, features Hollywood’s sensation Lupita Nyong’o, acting as Phiona’s mother and David Oyelowo as Robert Katende – Phiona’s trainer.

Ugandans can’t wait for the film to be released in September this year.

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