From Uganda slum to Disney heroine, chess champion inspires girls battling poverty

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

18 PHOTOS
Phiona Mutesi Ugandan teen chess star
See Gallery
Phiona Mutesi Ugandan teen chess star
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi sits at a chess centre in Kampala on January 17, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi (C) is pictured in Kampala on January 17, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. Since starting in 2003 the chess club has moved from playing chess with bottle tops to having a basic club house and over 60 members.   (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi (L) sits at a chess centre in Kampala on January 17, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi (L) plays at a chess centre in Kampala on January 17, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi plays at a chess hall in Kampala on January 17, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi walks to her home in Kampala on January 17, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 A chess centre in Kampala on January 30, 2013. 16 year Phiona Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. Since starting in 2003 the chess club has moved from playing chess with bottle tops to having a basic club house and over 60 members. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 Children play at a chess centre in Kampala on January 30, 2013. Club member, Phiona Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. Since starting in 2003 the chess club has moved from playing chess with bottle tops to having a basic club house and over 60 members.  (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 16 year old Phiona Mutesi (L) is on her way home from a chess centre in Kampala on January 30, 2013. Mutesi went from living rough on the streets of a Kampala slum to competing in chess' most prestigious international tournaments. Mutesi is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country's reigning under 20 champion. Disney film studios have bought the option to turn her story into a movie. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: Phiona Mutesi and Gary Kasparov attend Women in the World Summit 2013 on April 4, 2013 in New York, United States. (Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown/WireImage)
 18-year-old Phiona Mutesi plays a game of chess with her colleagues at the chess academy in Kibuye, Kampala, on January 26, 2015. When Phiona Mutesi was a famished nine-year-old foraging for food in Uganda's sprawling and impoverished Katwe neighbourhood, her one meal of the day depended on her ability to plan. 'I was very hungry,' said Mutesi, aged about 18, now a national chess champion, whose tale of triumph over adversity is the being turned into a Hollywood epic called 'Queen of Katwe', with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o tipped to play her mother. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 18-year-old Phiona Mutesi (L) plays a game of chess with her colleagues at the chess academy in Kibuye, Kampala, on January 26, 2015. When Phiona Mutesi was a famished nine-year-old foraging for food in Uganda's sprawling and impoverished Katwe neighbourhood, her one meal of the day depended on her ability to plan. 'I was very hungry,' said Mutesi, aged about 18, now a national chess champion, whose tale of triumph over adversity is the being turned into a Hollywood epic called 'Queen of Katwe', with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o tipped to play her mother.  (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 18-year-old Phiona Mutesi plays a game of chess with her colleagues at the chess academy in Kibuye, Kampala, on January 26, 2015. When Phiona Mutesi was a famished nine-year-old foraging for food in Uganda's sprawling and impoverished Katwe neighbourhood, her one meal of the day depended on her ability to plan. 'I was very hungry,' said Mutesi, aged about 18, now a national chess champion, whose tale of triumph over adversity is the being turned into a Hollywood epic called 'Queen of Katwe', with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o tipped to play her mother. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 (From R) Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyongo, Indian film maker Mira Nair and Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi pose in Kampala on March 28, 2015. Mutesi's tale of triumph over adversity is being turned into a Hollywood epic called 'Queen of Katwe', with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o tipped to play her mother (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong'o (C) gestures next to Indian film maker Mira Nair (L) in Kampala on March 28, 2015. Nyong'o is in Kampala to film 'Queen of Katwe', in which she plays the mother of Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi, whose tale of triumph over adversity is being turned into a Hollywood epic. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong'o looks on in Kampala on March 28, 2015. Nyong'o is in Kampala to film 'Queen of Katwe', in which she plays the mother of Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi, whose tale of triumph over adversity is being turned into a Hollywood epic. (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
 (From L) Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi, Indian film maker Mira Nair, Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyongo and Mutesi's chess coach Robert Katende pose in Kampala on March 28, 2015. Mutesi's tale of triumph over adversity is being turned into a Hollywood epic called 'Queen of Katwe', with Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o tipped to play her mother (MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

LONDON, July 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The true story of a teenager from a Ugandan slum who transformed her life from corn seller to international chess player is to make its European premiere at the London Film Festival in October.

The Disney movie, "Queen of Katwe," is based on the life of Phiona Mutesi who turned up at a sports outreach program in Katwe in Kampala for a cup of porridge at around the age of nine in 2005 and was drawn into a world of knights and checkmates.

Now Uganda's No. 3 female chess player according to the World Chess Federation, Mutesi is hailed an inspiration to many girls for managing to escape the life of poverty she was leading on the streets with her mother after her father died of AIDS.

Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world with 2014 government figures showing nearly 20 percent of the 38 million population lives in poverty. UNICEF data shows 24 percent of Ugandan children under five live in extreme poverty.

The movie, to be shown on Oct. 9 after opening in the United State in September, stars newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Mutesi, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o as her mother, and David Oyelowo as her chess teacher, a soccer player turned missionary.

SEE ALSO: Disney is finally introducing a Latina princess

Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr in "Selma," praised the film for illustrating a good side of the impoverished east African country.

"Africa is teeming with amazing people who in spite of their, at times, difficult lives, manage to remain full of joy and hope," Oyelowo said in a statement.

"This is a story where the impossible is made possible through family, mentorship, encouragement, hard work, and faith, all things we can aspire to."

See the trailer for Disney's 'Queen of Katwe':

Lupita Nyong'o in the trailer for Disney's Queen of Katwe

The film is based on a 2012 book about Mutesi who used the money she received from film rights to buy land for her family and to continue her studies, aiming to become a pediatrician, according to online chess community chessgames.com.

Mutesi, who spoke at the Women of the World Summit in New York in 2013 about the obstacles she had overcome, held the first ever all-girls chess clinic in Uganda with more than 400 girls showing up to the clinic.

But the girls weren't only taught chess but also learnt about delaying marriage and children until after they finished school and started their careers, according to her website.

Uganda has one of the world's highest rates of pre-teen and teenage pregnancies with one in every four girls aged between 15 and 19 getting pregnant, according to the Bureau of Statistics, and nearly half of girls married before 18.

The BFI London Film Festival, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, is Britain's largest film festival that showcases new British and international films. (Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; )

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners