Nikita Pearl Waligwa, the young Ugandan actress who played the younger friend of the main character in the acclaimed 2016 Disney film Queen of Katwe, has died at the age of 15.
Gayaza High School, Waligwa’s school, confirmed that the teenage star died of a brain tumor.
Ugandan media reported that Waligwa was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016, but she recovered a year later. Another was, however, found after her recovery.
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When reports of her death broke through on Sunday morning, tributes came in on social media from thousands who saw her as “Gloria” in Queen of Katwe.
David Oyelowo, the British actor who also starred in the film with Waligwa, took to Instagram to write: “She was a ball of light in Queen of Katwe and in life.”
Another star of the movie, Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, praised Waligwa’s acting and mourned the teenager’s battle with cancer.
Queen of Katwe is a true-life story about an uneducated young girl by name Phiona Mutesi from the Katwe slum in Uganda.
Mutesi, in spite of her deficient literacy skills, took up chess and overcame the odds to become the first girl to win the Ugandan national junior championship.
Mutesi went on to represent her country at international tournaments while she was still just a teenager.
Waligwa as Gloria was a friend to the film’s Mutesi. Gloria was the one who explained the rules of chess to Mutesi.
Queen of Katwe was hailed as a successful project especially in Uganda where it was set. Director Mira Nair was also applauded for using many first-time actors many of whom were kids from the slum.