Katwe Keys

So many keys in this film. If we can translate these principles across oceans and right down to our blocks…then maybe, just maybe we can start to get somewhere.

This was my first weekend back in Chicago, and I was in need of something comforting and inspiring to help me find my footing back in the land of my birth. Enter Queen of Katwe, the new film starring rising star David Oyelowo, global supernova Lupita Nyong’o, and my new favorite young actress, Madina Nalwanga.



The first line of the Wikipedia entry for this movie states: “Queen of Katwe is a 2016 American biographical sports drama film directed by Mira Nair from a screenplay by William Wheeler.” All of which is true…except for the ‘American’ part. It is true that Mira Nair is based in New York City, Lupita has lived on American magazine covers for the past 2-3 years, and many more Americans are familiar with David after his strong performance in the movie Selma.

However, to Disney’s credit, this film is not merely an American story told on an East African stage. The film’s director and writer did an excellent job of centering the voice of the film in the spirit of the residents of the Katwe neighborhood in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. The skill of the screenwriters was in channeling the oral history, parable-driven form of communication that lies at the core of so many cultures within the African Diaspora, and blending it with the kinds of you-can-do-it, believe-in-yourself, never-give-up themes that American audiences have come to expect in films with underdog protagonists.



There were several lines throughout this film that struck me as particularly relevant in the context of all that has taken place in the U.S. over the past 4-5 years. Lines that spoke to me as one of the millions of people across the country who try to empower, educate, equip, and encourage young people. Lines that spoke to me as I thought about the current movement for justice which is being led by young people in spaces and places all over the world.

Khaled already told you:



Just because they don’t want to see you win doesn’t mean they won’t. So let’s get to some of the Katwe Keys to success:

“I thought you might want to beat city boys…with their good watches.”

At the core of all our American Dreams is the belief that we can become one of the people with “good watches”. We’ve been told that there are certain places you can’t go unless you have good watches. We’ve come to believe that people without good watches have to beg others to see/hear them…while people with good watches have people begging to be seen by them.

The idea that YOU…with an old watch, a broken watch, an ugly watch or no watch at all…can not only compete – but can beat – people with good watches is the kind of idea we love to say to kids but are scared to believe about ourselves.

“This is a place for fighters”

I found this line to be a beautiful rallying cry for all the adults who create and care for spaces inhabited by young people. Most of us are comfortable talking about preparing young people to learn, to work, to grow, and to collaborate. Fewer of us talk about preparing our young people to fight. For their dreams. For their humanity. For their families. For a better country. For their rights. For what’s right.



“The hungry dog…was only running for a meal. The cat was running for its life. You, my great cats, are running for your lives.”

This key isn’t for everyone. This one is for people who do not have the option of stopping, because if you did, your problems would catch up with you and drown you.

This key is for people who are fighting for their lives, their families’ lives, their children’s lives…and find themselves around people who aren’t fighting for anything or anyone.

This movie does not romanticize pain and hardship, and neither should we. The Struggle is Real. But so is your fight.

“Dear Father, we thank you for this opportunity. Help us to be great today.”

Regardless of where (or whether) you are on the spectrum of spirituality, the consistent practice of gratitude is an asset to anyone’s life. I was moved by the specificity of this expression of gratitude. This isn’t the “at least I didn’t die today” or “someone is starving in Africa” kind of gratitude. This is the kind of gratitude that sees opportunity when others see tragedy.

It is also the kind of gratitude that provokes a desire to be great TODAY. The goal of being the best version of yourself today is very different from the goal of being great so that you can obtain “good watches”.


“Sometimes, the place you are used to is not the place [where] you belong.”

Most of us want to be comfortable. Many of us like the places we’re used to, the people who know us, the things we have.

And yet it is quite possible that where you are supposed to be may involve traveling through spaces and places that make you uncomfortable. It is possible that you are supposed to be in situations that reveal sides of yourself that you are not accustomed to.

“That is your work. And that is the work of this family.”

What is your work? What is the work of the people who you consider your family? Finding the answers to these two questions may be the most important keys of all.

– Day G.

Host, Class of Hope & Change documentary