I was invited by Disney to attend the #QueenOfKatwe Event. Although all of my expenses were paid, all opinions are my own.
Queen Of Katwe will be in theaters everywhere this Friday, September 30. You need to take your entire family and see this amazing film. I loved it and cannot wait to see it again. While I was in Los Angeles last week for the Queen Of Katwe Event, I had the awesome opportunity to chat with some of the cast and real life inspirations for Queen Of Katwe. It is always such an honor to chat with these people but I found it even more of an honor because I loved Queen Of Katwe’s message so much!
First up in the line of interviews was Lupita Nyong’o (“Harriet Mutesi”), Madina Nalwanga (“Phiona Mutesi”) & Martin Kabanza (Phiona’s brother “Brian Mugabi”)! Let me just start by saying that we were all in tears during this interview. Wow, what an amazing group of individuals.
What was it like working together for the three of you:
Lupita: We like each other and we had a lot of fun together. I met them before we started shooting. The casting for Phiona was a long process but cnce Madina was cast, I walked into a rehearsal workshop situation where they had my whole family there and I walked in and she just, she said, hi, Mom! I gave her a big hug and they were both just so receptive to me and Madina actually taught me how to cook. She sold corn in her past and I asked her to show me to go shopping in the market. How she’d do it and we went back to, she did all the shopping. My whole onscreen family, we went and did it together and then we went back to her house and she showed me how to prepare the meal. We all played a role in the preparation of the meal. Martin was director, but I feel like he was chopped a few things or washed a few things. He participated! So we broke the ice and we had a really great working relationship. They’re really hungry and curious and present as actors and it was so lovely for me to have that kind of present kind of immediate condition to work in.
Lupita: They still call me mama!
Martin: It was my first time acting, but I never knew anything about acting. She taught us how to get into character and we used to copy everything she did. We tried to do it, so she was so good. She was a good mom. I really used to copy her and I named myself copycat because every time I could see her getting to character and then I do what she was doing in a quiet ways and she can’t see me, but she was really good and she really helped me in some of the hard scenes that are really hard because I could not really cry because you’ll never find dancers sad. We are always happy and she was there for me to make sure that I get into character so that I can cry. She really helped me so much. That’s why I still call her mom because ever since I was young, ever since I left my mom because she wanted me to go to school and that’s why I left her. I’ve never had someone else or anyone else that I’ve ever called Mom since I was four, up to last year, so she was the first one to be called mom from my mom and it was so, so nice for me to call her mom.
Madina: She really acts it. Yes. Do you want this? So it was really nice for me to meet her and she was amazing for me and when I called mom for the first time, she replied to me, and I got touched inside my heart. Say, okay, so I can call her mom on tape and she will say yes, so it was really good meeting. I was raised by my grandparents. My mother left me when I was three months, so, me too, because my first time to say mom in my mouth! Yes. Not a dry eye.
Are there any scenes that were especially touching for you?
Lupita: Touching, my goodness. Um, what wasn’t touching? I do remember once we were about to shoot the eviction scene, where we all get evicted and I was sitting in our tent where we’d wait and these two were very quiet as well and they were quite pensive and I asked them how they felt. They both mentioned how this was their life. You know, they both experienced evictions in their past and I just remember being really moved at how this, the artifice was reflecting a real life in Phiona, but also a real in both of them and that they were having this chance to tell their story! To bring it to a larger audience that would understand the challenges of poverty.
How did you feel when you saw the cover?
Lupita: …bring words to that moment. I was just so touched when Vogue said they wanted to do another cover with me, I was like elated, then they said, you know, we would love it to be about you in a different kind of way and they were interested in doing a trip to Africa. Then I said the only place go was home, you know. It’s home and, and the place that means the most to me is my village, Ragda, where my grandparents are and it’s my ancestral home and I spent my vacations there as a child and it’s where my whole extended family would come together and we’d pass the holidays together and so to see that place, that light, that equatorial light on the cover of Vogue and to find my grandmother in the pages inside, I mean, I was just like! It was everything I hoped it would be. Kenya is known to be a tourist destination. I mean, we have all the wildlife and that attracts thousands, hundreds of thousands every year, but Kisumo, the Western part is no a tourist darling at all, and yet, it’s magnificent. I think it’s magnificent with the rock formation of Kitmekai and, and just the colors. The Lake Victoria. The fishing. It’s the thing that actually brings Uganda and Kenya together. We share the Lake Victoria and we shot Queen of Katwe on one side of Lake Victoria and you see that in the film and then the Vogue shoot was on the other side of it, and so for me, that was a tie-in and it was a thing that brought the film and me being on the cover together.
What was it like learning Uganda and did you know it before?
Lupita: I didn’t know any Uganda. Well, these guys were my teachers, that’s what’s was so great about being in Uganda is that I got to immerse myself in the culture and, and I had to learn Uganda because and you know, at first I came to Uganda and I was like, yeah, I’m gonna, you know, I’m gonna pick up a few Uganda words and then I was introduced to Baby Ivan who plays Baby Richard and he didn’t speak any English. The first time he was given to me, he went right back to the person who gave him to me because he didn’t trust me and I couldn’t have a conversation with him and then I realized that Uganda was my lifesaver. It was going to really be my lifesaver and so I got to work learning Uganda and I would ask all the time how to say things and write them down and I needed to say very basic things to this boy like, do you need to pee? Are you hungry? Stop doing that. Keep quiet. Yeah, so it came in very, very handy and I loved learning it.
What was your favorite scene in the movie?
Martin: My favorite scene is where I run for the chicken! It was so work for me because all the time I was eating chicken which was not in my diet.
Lupita: I was trying to teach them about when I made this mistake of twelve years when they give you food, you can’t eat too much of it because there’s going to be so many takes and you’re going to be sick by the time you finish the scene and I wasn’t there for that scene, but we had a scene where we had to eat this stew and the art department made this stew so good, so all the kids were just like, scarfing it down and I was like, guy, you’ve got to slow down because you’re not going to make it and then before you know it, and they didn’t want. By the time we’re shooting the thing, they’re like, pushing it away. They didn’t want anything to do with it.
Madina: Yeah, so with me, my favorite part in the movie was seeing David running around doing the cat and dog scene because not in my life, I’ve never had someone who has time for me, who has time for all of us. Like, he had time for us, so he could do the cat and dog playing for us and I looked at him. It was fun for me. I liked it, but I felt it because I felt it because ever since, for all of my life, I’ve never had someone like that.
Martin: Another scene that I liked in the movie is the flood scene. I like Mama doing it. She was so real and me, I didn’t have that power of crying, but she made me cry in that scene because she was so real.
Lupita: It was, it was really cold and, and we shot that in South Africa over four days and it was the winter time in South Africa, so it was a little shy of thirty degrees so we would get to set, get into our costumes, go into a hot tub, get wet and then go into this freezing cold water all day and every time they said, cut, we’d run to this hot tub. Then just sit in and then we got all muddy because of the mud in the water and we’d just sit there and like, sing and, and talk and play until we had to go again.
Martin: Yeah, I also had another second scene. Yeah. This scene where by here is to be knocked by a boda boda (motorcycle). It was so bad for me because I’ve never experienced that because me, because it has ever knocked me. I had an accident with a car when I was little, so I saw a human being knocked down, so I knew it happens and how it feels to see someone in that much pain.
Do you prefer roles in stories that have never been told and what do you hope to bring to the forefront in playing those roles?
Lupita: Well, I love playing roles that stretch me and help me to learn something new and deep about the human experience. I mean, it was not by design that I set out to play African women, but how happy I am to have had these opportunities because I think it’s that Africa all to often is blanket. It’s just a blanket statement. There’s so specificity. There’s no, it’s very a general wash of ideas. That people have of this continent where I’m from and I know, being from there, that it is many splendored and so to be able to bring to the forefront stories, particular and specific stories about African women in their variety is so exciting to me because I’m a child of global popular culture. I grew up watching Mexican, Brazilian, Australian, English, American TV.
I think I was able to identify with all those people that I met and learn something new about those cultures. I’d never worn a winter coat, but I know when you’re in New York, you have a winter coat. As much as I identified with the sibling rivalry or the heartbreak or whatnot and so for an African story to be playing that same kind of role, being I, a universal story that’s still and it’s specificity as we find with Phiona Mutesi in this story of Queen of Katwe, it is my pride and my joy. I am so happy to be able to play a part in, in making the African woman the global woman.
The three of them were SO nice to take the time to post with us for a picture! The interview time that we had we absolutely amazing and inspiring. I couldn’t wait to see the movie again later that night at the premiere!
Remember that Queen Of Katwe will be in theaters everywhere this Friday, September 30! Be sure to go see it with your family!!