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Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende Interview


When people speak to your soul, it’s just undeniable.  In our final sit down interview during the Queen of Katwe press trip we got to pick the brains of Phiona and Robert.

Interviewing Phiona Mutesi, the chess phenom that inspired the movie Queen of Katwe, and her “coach” and mentor Robert Katende is one of the absolute highlights of my year.

There was an energy around both of them that was hard to describe. They were soft spoken yet had this strength and surety around them… I can’t explain it. I just was very drawn to them both.

I already had it in my mind that Robert was my life coach…he just didn’t know it. The lines he said to Phiona in the film were very much like what he told her in real life. It was clear this man was divinely gifted to lead, mentor and change lives.


We have this young girl from the slum of Katwe. Selling corn in the streets to help feed her family. Luckily she meets Robert and learns chess and turns out to be a prodigy and becomes a Candidate Master in chess and changes life for herself and her family.  It sounds like it’s a movie…(well, it is now, so go see it today!)… but it’s real life for these two.

And still…after being a chess champ, having a book, a documentary and now a Disney movie made about her life, Phiona sat across from us with a humble, shy energy, in awe of what was going on and still not believing it was happening to her.

We had to tell her YOU BELONG HERE. (a powerful line from the movie – but applicable in real life as well, even today #impostorsyndromisreal)

We asked Phiona and Robert how closely the film mirrored their actual lives and they let us know it was fairly true to life. That was good to know. (I hear the book goes more into some of the darker/sadder events in Phiona’s family and Robert’s hardships, but Disney didn’t take it there in the film.)


We asked Robert to speak to us about the life lessons we can learn through chess. He shared how we can apply anything in life to chess. All situations can be paralleled in the game. Decision making skills, responsibility, planning, taking control, switching your game plan and sticking through with what you planned to do. Also, as in the movie, we learned that through chess we learn never to give up.

Robert also told us how the chess program he started in 2002 has grown to over 80 students, his children have started school, become university students, and are thriving in various ways. All of the children have grown into leaders.

All of us in the room were so awed and proud to hear how Robert’s chess program that started with 6 children has grown, so I can’t even imagine how he feels.

I’m really grateful that this story was brought out of obscurity and shared with the world. First in book, documentary and now Disney. If you haven’t seen Queen of Katwe yet, know it opens everywhere today!!


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