Today we have a guest writer; Acaye Elizabeth Pamela who attend the Queen of Katwe premiere sharing her thoughts on the movie, comments on Tim Kalyegire’s review of the movie, and the creative and movie arts sector in Uganda.
Mira Nair accomplished the Unenviable task of creatively designing and coordinating the work of many; who might never have met one another.
From Disney to Uganda, SouthAfrica and Kenya via Nigeria; she made sure that all their work, be it creative, administrative, artistic or technical, however far apart in time and place, came together to serve a common purpose:
- To shine Uganda to the world through Phiona Mutesi’s story. A story about an 11 year old girl, who exits the belly of poverty through the game of Chess in the slum of Katwe.
Nair at the premier opening said that she heard the story from Tendo Nagenda, currently executive Vice President of production at Walt Disney Studios and with family roots in Uganda.
But, something else happened on October 1st at Acacia mall that many missed: Uganda National Theater shined the skills, art, creativity and talent it has nurtured and mentored in almost all of the cast and production team that worked on the set of #QueenOfKatwe both minor and major. But the Director and Board are still in doubt of its tangible worth.
Moving on, Queen of Katwe is adapted from Tim Crothers’ initial article and book on Mutesi. The screenplay is by William Wheeler who came to Kampala to meet and interview all the principal figures.
Given, like Judith Lucy Adong, a prolific and accomplished theater practitioner and educator, stated in her Facebook comments as a reaction to Harriet Anenas query.
“…..I find it hard to believe that a screenplay written by a mzungu, directed by an Indian, acted in by Kenyan actress and Black British actor can be very Ugandan when David Oyelowo’s accent changes 3 or more times in the trailer. ..” – Adong
In the same thread, Kagwa Andrew Myga, an arts critique with the Observer newspaper had a contrasting opinion;
“……. I don’t know if I can give you a conclusive evaluation of the film because my judgement was already corrupted by the fact that I connected with everything in it.” -Myga
But who is the sacred priest or priestess that we believe must tell the Ugandan Story? How Ugandan must a person be, to tell a story of Uganda, about Uganda, with Ugandans?!
Nair considers Uganda home; in Kampala. She first came here in 1989 while doing research for what would become her film “Mississippi Masala.” After the the Idi Amin Saga. My mother tells me it was a tragic yet vibrantly adventurous time in Uganda under Amin.
So when Timothy Kalyegira beefs about why Amin, played by Forest Whitaker In #KingOfScotland wears cowboy boots instead of his always shiny shoes. Kalyegira misses the point of artistic/creative License and interpretation.
That said though, some of the casting was soo off the mark; an opinion I best directed at Joanita Wandera who was Head of Casting for Uganda under the leadership of Dinaz Stafford.. True: there are scenes and characters with whom I felt shortchanged (never mind that not a quarter of my shilling contributed to its making) also, an opinion reserved for the Scene Director like;
- The boys dancing in the market as they sing along to ‘Number one Spice’ the soundtrack by by Zoran Mamdani Kwame; who just happens to be a biological son to Nair and Mandani has nothing to do with it. It just didn’t work!
Navio and I both had that side eye moment to this scene to which he commented,
“it should have been my song here: Njogereza “- Navio.
I asked: “Is your mother the Director of #QueenofKatwe? ”
“No! ” -Navio.
- The sounds of Annet Nandujja, Afrigo band, Apass, amongst others though are a very heartwarming musical underscore to the movie. A celebration of how far we have come as a music industry on the one hand.
- When Nicholas Levesque, who plays the older David tells his mother in a Katwe slum;
“I want to pee”
I was overcome by immense thirst for I don’t know of any ghetto, or slum child who uses ‘pee’ in their diction about the act of ‘Susuring’ or ‘Susu’ in reference to the act of urinating. But that is more to the language specialist if there was one; who neglected to do their job excellently and point that out to the director-Nair.
- Nikita Waligwa as Gloria was also an ill fit. The casting and makeup team did not even attempt to prepare her to fit within the Katwe context with her middle class style plaited hair with extensions. She seemed more like the town gal come for the day visit at her poor Aunts home in Katwe.
- Oh, when Lukenge Yusuf who plays the brick layer twice speaks to Mutesi in English. It felt so misplaced! A Luganda statement with subtitles would have added a lot of contextual and realistic depth to the Movie.
- The scene between Esther Tebandeke and David Oyewelo in which she reacts simply to his news that he rejected the ‘water Job’ to nurture the slum children in Chess was a major underdone one. It missed the mark again for me.
However, again, I was not the director!!!! Neither was it my story, telling.
Speaking of, has anyone noticed that Peter Odeke, Philip Luswata , Muwawu ,Joanita Wandera, Micheal Wawuyo, are recurring faces in all major movies out of Uganda?! Are they the only ones available for these roles overtime during casting or does it have a lot to do with who is in charge of casting during these auditions?! (Please do not Shoot the messenger.)
I ask because of the bigger question of #Inclusivity and #Diversity, #legitimate, access to opportunity etc, as we head into a major period of negotiating a committed Arts Leadership for Uganda amongst other goals like, #HaltingUNCCREdevelopment, minimum wage standards within the arts and Creative Industry;
- Is there a conversational place for us to answer these sticky questions about our present leadership?!
- Our brand faces of the arts and creative industry?! Is there space for more new faces in bigger moments such as this?!
And of Course, Nair’s sense of home in Uganda is attached to professor Mamdani, her husband of 25 years now. Hold that thought!
Speaking of the premier, I felt immensely privileged to be invited to it via Maisha. My wristband was colored green while my date for the night Maureen Agena had hers in color yellow. (Think ; if you must about this statement in light of the present sexual minority dilemma plaguing public opinion). The color banding meant that me and my date sat in different theaters. But we both ate the same aired popcorn in the different cinemas that stuck like glue to the gum and drank warm randomly placed bottles of Pepsi products. Instead, Navio simply asked if I could exchange my Spaleta for an Evervess and that minor detail was done.
We sat there happily viewing another successful feat of creative Tourism exposition that did not rush to sell, risk as collateral against an investor loan or, lease a Landed Asset-Maisha Garden to finance the movie production.
Instead I burst out laughing to the reference of Sudan as an outside, international country and how that figures in our mindset of intercultural exposure.
Ministry of Gender, labour and Social development under the authoritative directorship of Minister Janat Mukwaya and permanent secretary Mr. Pius Bigirimana need to sit down to coffee with Mira Nair. It does not hurt to listen to how the creative industry can thrive free of debt and destruction from one who has achieved an investment purpose way bigger than the millions of dollars they are bent on borrowing to exploit against a redevelopment plan for Uganda National Cultural Center(UNCC) even before costing the actual investment, its viability or its feasibility which seem to miss the occurrence of their vastly educated minds.
Uganda Tourism Board could also attend that coffee to explore viable non debt ways of promoting Uganda to the Diasporas. I am waiting to see what Tourism package (forget the #Rolex) that they are going to brand out of Katwe and Gabba landing site where the movie was shot over the unsettling tumors I have heard of Gabba Market imminent sale to an Investor from the fish sellers in the vibrant shacks that dot the lake shoreline!!!
At the premier, the coloring of the wrist bands had more to do with the production houses that made the movie than with class or ethnic profiling like some of you are quipping, and, the maximum sitting capacity in each cinema hall.
Nair, in her characteristic simple way stated her vision before introducing the cast.
“If we don’t tell our own stories, really, no one will tell them.” Mira Nair
So, Kal, where is your counter Natrative to #QueenOfKatwe or #KingOfScotland for you have missed the point of artistic/creative License and interpretation.
Phiona Mutetsi in her interview after the Toronto premier is quoted as saying:
“You have to consider the other side,” Phiona Mutesi.
Acaye Elizabeth Pamela Renown Poet, Fashion designer and creative director at Kendu Forum.