Actress Madina Nalwanga arrives at the world premiere of Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” at Roy Thompson Hall as part of the 2016 Toronto Film Festival where the cast, filmmakers and real life stars received a standing ovation.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

“Phiona’s life is my life,” says Nalwanga.

Taiia Smart Young
Sep, 20, 2016

Anyone charged with sharing the screen with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo better bring some serious acting chops to the table. Such is the case with 16-year-old Madina Nalwanga in Queen of Katwe (in theaters Sept. 26). 

“I was shaking because I could not believe that I got the part [of Phiona Mutesi],” says the acting newbie, whose only connection to the arts before that was as a dancer in Uganda.

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On the surface, Queen of Katwe (based on a true story) is about 10-year-old Phiona. Her life in the Katwe slums of Uganda changes when soccer player turned missionary Robert Katende (Oyelowo) teaches her chess. In reality, the film is about family, community and dreams, and finding that safe square on the board—and in life.

“Phiona’s life is my life,” says Nalwanga. “Everything she went through to be successful is everything that I went through to make sure that I’m successful.”