It is always cool to know that a story is based on real life but its anything thing entirely when you get to meet the real life inspirations for a film. While I was in LA last week I got to meet and interview the real Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende. They are the inspirations for the movie Queen of Katwe and we also got to interview the actress that plays Phiona, Madina Nalwango. We sadly didnt get to interview David Oyelowo who played Robert Katende in the film but we did see him at the red carpet premiere and afterparty! I really wanted to know more about them. I wanted to see the way they thought and how they imagined the movie would affect their lives so I was so glad we got to interview them. I even bought the book to go in depth in their lives so I could better form my questions for them. It turns out I didnt get a chance to ask a question this time around but I was still happy because my blogging friends asked many of the things I was thinking.
Many of the scenes in the movie are about how chess can apply to life so we asked what life lessons you can take away from chess.
Robert Katende – There are several, actually, just generally in life and there are many values that we meet on a daily basis in our lives; In a child’s life you can involve them well to the platform of chess. You can tackle abstractive thinking, problem-solving, decision making, weighing options, and even responsibility because chess kind of mentors you in finding value and where you have to get comfortable with your decisions and don’t simply make moves.
You should have a plan, you should have an objective, an activity objective. It gives you an opportunity to where you can have ideas and try to figure out how to bring them to reality. So you must get input in the integration of these values and principles from the game into your lifestyle.
Since many of us read the book and they didn't talk much about Robert's life in the movie we also asked Phiona if the movie was true to life. She told us that she liked the movie but it was her first time in a theater. She said it didn't seem real, like it should be happening to someone else. We told her she belongs here. She looked great at the red carpet premiere so I think she is settling in to these ‘not real' things. We asked her if she was going to go to Disneyland but she said they had other things planned and she wasn't sure what that was. We also asked her about ketchup (which you will see in the movie) and she said she had lots of french fries and ketchup but she is tired of it now. We all laughed and then we asked what advice she would give to other young girls.
Phiona Mutesi – Well, what I know, it’s not, like, as well problems- I’ll say, most people when they’re like, they’re having problems, but it just takes hope. Have hope in everything you’re doing, and just be hard working, and just approve about yourself; you feel like, no, I don’t wanna be like this. Have a dream, I want to be this in my life. So that, really, right, you’re like, I don’t want to be like this.
One of the other things the movie only talked about briefly was the beginning of the Pioneers. We asked Robert how they all got started.
Robert Katende – Yeah, I started, in 2002 and, it really started stabilizing in 2004. There were six, the kids, I have six and I’ve been dealing with them for over now twelve years. The way I keep some of them, in the age, like Phiona, had, like, one year and a half. She was nine, and now she’s twenty. So they have now become young adults.
And when I took them they had not even schooling. He’s now qualified as a physics and math teacher. He’s now, he’s just graduating, June, commencing. Benjamin, Phiona, he’s just completing high school to go to university next year. So it’s really a remarkable journey, for me to see them. And, besides they have professional kind of goals, they are naturally becoming leaders.
And they reach out to the program that, like Phiona, it’s not just like coincidence, but it’s like a strategy on starting to give them some sense of responsibility, and then also enabling them to realize that they have something they can really, that there is something that they can offer at even their lower level. So they are naturally in this that they should grow. So this, right now, I sit, and we instruct and we plan together with the kids who were the kids then- now they are adults, and we just sit and plan, and the consequence, we can do this, and so I will get on this, and then they bring their report.
I’m so grateful because I kind of see myself like I have not planned. Like, even right now, we are weighing all this with over eight kids packed in.
Several of the kids depicted in the movie live with Robert and his family. He is a true mentor and a wonderful leader to these children. He is changing their lives everyday. And its amazing to me that he saw the potential in Phiona that she could make it this far. Many of the children now have completed school which would have been almost impossible before. He just opened his heart to these kids and chose a career working with children and being a spiritual leader.
It is hard for me to paraphase our next question but I feel like it was an important one. Question : Referring to something you said in the book about stepping out of the boat and how you react to fear, and also, for Phiona, how to react when you feel defeated like you felt in Russia when you’re crying and devastated. How do you react in those situations?
Robert Katende –Yeah, that is true, but in most cases it is fear. It hinders a lot in many cases especially for the children; that they have nothing to relate to- so no one has ever done it. They cannot connect . So it’s more like, no, you step out. You be there first. You take that responsibility. We just offer have real-life situations.
Then the question now is, what do you think is going to change us? You see yourself; Ask the person, what’s going to change this turnaround, to make this happen. So it’s like you start to instill a sense of discipline and responsibility. You need to see it from their perspective; not look at all- I wish my aunt had done this; oh, I wish my mom was available, but and my personal life, I tell them, look at me.
I’m a typical orphan; I never knew that things would ever change. But in every case, I had to keep on trying. I’d rather try than fail to try, and then I say it didn’t work out. There are moments when I go I wanted so much to do, I was really good in academics, but I can imagine what you are reading today. You have exams in two weeks, but you’re not sure whether you’re going to see them because you don’t have, you don’t realize the future.
So you ask many times , why should I really? If it doesn’t happen, I will have done my part. So that’s the kind of approach I take.
Phiona Mutesi – My reaction whenever I would lose a game, most of the time I would cry, like, maybe today, with the pain of pressure, that’s when I cry most. Like whenever I was in Uganda, I could do most of my games, so here I am; I’m coming to Russia; I thought everything is going to small. Yet, I forgot about that this before, that is a different experience from Uganda and , so from that, I think I got an experience- a great one, and got to learn everything, so it doesn’t affect me anymore. Whenever I lose, it’s just part of the game. I just had to learn from that.
Another life lesson. You have to learn from your mistakes and your losses. Sometimes they aren't any fault of your own but you have to step up and move forward. One of the quotes from the movie is, “What matters is when you reset the pieces and start again' and that should apply to all of life.
They took a series of photos with us which was awesome to be able to sit around and chat while everyone got in place for the photos. I wanted to share one more question we asked and its long but I really enjoyed Robert's answer.
Robert Katende – Yeah, surely it is something remarkable. I strongly believe maybe my general team have really done it. I have learned on being a father. Before I got a family, I was more in a training, so they really taught me so much about tolerance, patience and embracing each one’s ability.
Because when it comes to the programs, it’s not so much entailed on chess but it’s more of focusing on an individual. And if the child is different- they have different abilities; different perspectives of life, and now you find yourself in this dilemma where you have to look at each child as an individual. And to me, it’s more of a community investment. You really choose to be in there and see how this important to them.
And then I did find where is the strength of this one like there is- they are now, they are the ones leading most of the programs because they have turned out to be good leaders. But I remember ten years back, the good example was Richard. So this is the young boy who volunteered to keep our chess support current from the beginning. And then, he was keeping this chess support, and then one time, almost like six months, he came on and said, “Coach, I think we need to find somewhere else to keep our board.”
Why? And then he said, “No, when my uncle comes back home, he comes back drunk, and he fights with auntie, and so they will break our board.” Now, this really hit me and I almost shed tears because for him, it was for the board, and me, I was moved to, what kind of trauma does this child go through at home? So it takes you beyond what you think, and that sometimes you, even you go- when it comes to mentorship, I’ve many times find myself going beyond the actual child, and going even to the people behind the child.
Because some of the issues are actually, imagine, from the guardian, or the uncle, or the auntie, they have that role that they play. Sometimes once you see this child going through, they’re just symptoms, and they have a cause behind it. And sometimes you cannot keep on addressing the symptoms and that forces you to go beyond, and then reach out to even the guardians. Those who don’t have them, I got an opportunity to get to adopt them so that I am with them now.
You can find them in my home in the hotel, and there are about eight kids over there. We sometimes even mentor them who know how to play chess. So it’s now more like a big family. But mentorship is not something really you can just say it’s on and then off. It’s an ongoing process. And it’s not like, I will come and teach you, and then go away, but you allow them to learn your weaknesses, to learn how you face difficulties, how you respond to them.
It’s not a short case kind of situation, but you’re more like living with them on a daily basis, and they learn the positive way how to react to grief; how to respond to calamities if they occur. So you are their only model. They’re there to pick every lesson from you- so they become part of you. You open your home; sometimes I tell people that you have to allow them and give them–.
They are there; they are part of you; they give you a call; they come; they say, “coach, we need to come.” So it is an ongoing selfless living, you know, but for the purpose of, trying to see how best how you can support in terms of—-.