It's always fun interviewing a director. It gives you a new and different perspective of the filmmaking process. As you know, I was in LA last week spending time interviewing the cast and director of Queen of Katwe. I also got to walk the Red Carpet at the premiere, which I'm going to keep talking about every single time I can, but that's not important right now.
We sat down with Queen of Katwe director, Mira Nair "Monsoon Wedding") to talk about the making of this film. If I had to choose one word to describe her, it would be "passion."
Mira has a deep love for Africa and specifically Uganda and is passionate about telling the stories of her people.
"If we don't tell our stories, no one else will."
If you don't already know about the film, Queen of Katwe, please watch. And love.
Mira Nair had been living in Kampala for 27 years. She fell in love and had a son. Her son is part of Young Cardamom & HAB whose adorable video "#1 Spice is showcased at the end of the film. Again, watch. And love. (Full disclosure: I downloaded the entire Queen of Katwe soundtrack because I fell in love with it so much.)
She later created a film school called Maisha. The slogan of the Maisha school: If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will. I love that so much and it so resonates with me as a Cuban-American.
Mira Nair was super committed to making this film was as authentic as it could be. In the film itself, while Phiona’s mom, Harriet tries to discourage her from dreaming so she will not be disappointed, “Phiona proves to her mother quietly and steadily that it is possible — with a teacher like this, with a community like this, with a street like this, with a family like this — to achieve whatever you could dream for.”
If you can imagine it, there were 700 girls who auditioned for the role of Phiona Mutesi. Casting had not been able to find who had the requisite innocence and strength they wanted for the rold. When Casting Director Dinaz Stafford came to her that they had found the perfect "Phiona," she balked.
But when Mira met Madina Nalwanga, she totally knew that she was the one. In Mira’s own words,“She owned it. She was extraordinary.”
Harriet, Phiona's mother shows incredible power, strength, and determination. In spite of her homelessness, she was determined to keep her family together against absolutely all the odds. Mira was so deeply moved by Harriet's struggle that she befriended Harriet. “She was not a defeated woman by any means.”
In spite of Harriet's personal steadfastness, Mira firmly believes, especially in this case, that "it takes a village."
“You have to have the fire in you, but it takes a village. It takes a teacher to see your talent. It takes a mother to shepherd you, whether it is a right shepherding or not, whether she understands if it is or isn’t a gambling game.”
Mira's Passion Project
I've got nothing but love and respect for Mira Nair and for the real-life people, Phiona and her mother and her coach, about whom this film was made. I absolutely loved spending time with her as I (along with my other fellow bloggers) sat wide-eyed in rapt attention.
You will feel the absolute passion Mira has for storytelling that comes through in every moment of Queen of Katwe.