Film

Ugandan Disney Exec on Bringing 'Queen of Katwe' to Life

Tendo Nagenda, Disney’s executive vice president of production, speaks on the commitment to tell stories authentically with 'Queen of Katwe.'

“Genius ability lies everywhere, it’s very abundant in Africa as well,” Tendo Nagenda says.


It was an ESPN feature by the former senior Sports Illustrated writer, Tim Crothers, that moved Nagenda, Disney’s executive vice president of production, to facilitate the Queen of Katwe. “What I saw is a genuine underdog story and something that was as relatable as Cinderella—which is another movie I worked on.”

Nagenda worked on Disney’s latest production about the Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi which chronicles the teenager’s triumphs despite her harrowing experiences in childhood, including her father passing from AIDS and growing up in a slum, with no guarantees of a full meal. By the time she was 11, Mutesi had won the women’s junior championship and continued to dominate the competition for three more years. 2009 was the first time the chess champion ever boarded a plane or slept in her own bed, at a hotel, during a trip to Juba, Sudan where she took the cup. Experiences that Crothers captures in the 2012 book: Queen of Katwe.

On the responsibility to make believable stories, Nagenda shares: “There’s a commitment to telling stories authentically. We shot in Africa—in Uganda and South Africa. All the children in the film had never acted before and were from Katwe. That was a big thing for Disney to commit to using untrained actors—to make sure we trained them.”

Tendo Nagenda. Photo courtesy of Liquid Soul Marketing Agency.

One of the most conspicuous details in the cast line-up is that Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and Oscar nominated actor David Oyelowo (Selma) are not Ugandan. “We wanted to hire the best actors to portray these parts—Oyelowo as the coach Robert Katende, and Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother Nakku Harriet. I think authenticity goes deeper than this specific country. If you start to dig in on that level, you’d have to find someone who can act and attract a worldwide audience. Lupita and David can bring an authenticity in their portrayal because both have spent significant time in the region and got a sense of Uganda.”

Oyelowo was in Uganda to film The Last King of Scotland and Lupita attended the Maisha Film Lab, which was founded by the film’s director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!), long before Hollywood catapulted her to the A-List.

Star power aside, Nagenda notes that this film is indeed authentic, explaining: “This is a story about people raising themselves up—nobody comes to their rescue from the West, we thought that was a very important thing to do.”

Speaking on the importance of having Africans in corporate side of show business, Nagenda states: “When we are able to bring our point of view to it, we are able to show how stories from that point of view connect us to the rest of the world as opposed to separate us.”

Photo by Edward Echwalu.

A-List, African, Hollywood heavyweights are so few you’d be forgiven for thinking that no African executives exist. Nagenda is a Ugandan-Belizean professional who was U.S. born, but lived in Uganda as a 12-year-old. “We stayed for a year-and-a-half but it changed my world view. It helped me understand the things that Uganda, Africa, had in common with the rest of the world.”

On the importance of the soundtrack and working with a team that understands the region, Nagenda says: “The director [Mira Nair] is particularly attuned to music and it plays a big part in all of her films—she really took pains to ensure we were accurately representing music from the region.” The soundtrack includes new, old and trending stars including: Davido, Alicia Keys and Afrigo Band—to name a few.

Phiona’s story is a reminder of that “gifts in young people live everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” according to Nagenda. Come September 23, Uganda’s biggest film to date will remind audiences that excellence too can be found in Katwe. Or as Nagenda put it: “It’s a movie from Africa for the world.”

Interview

Mr. P Sets Out To Blaze His Own Trail With 'The Prodigal'

The veteran afropop star experiments with his own distinctive sound on his solo debut album.

Nigerian singer Peter Okoye has reached African music's greatest heights, yet still believes he has something to prove. One half of the superstar afropop duo P-Square, he's had one of the lengthiest and most successful careers in the history of afrobeats. Over the past few years he has recorded and released music as a solo act, following his split from the highly-accomplished group which he formed with his twin brother Paul Okoye. Now with the release of his debut album The Prodigal, he believes it's time to fully take his solo career to the next level.

Performing under the moniker Mr. P, Okoye began his solo career back in 2017 with the single "Cool It Down," and followed up with a string of tracks that included features with the likes of Niniola, Simi, Jamaican singer Nyanda of Brick & Lace, DJ Switch, and more recently Wande Coal. Now, four years later, Mr. P has finally served us with his debut solo album. Over a soundscape of afrobeats, dancehall, R&B, and more, Mr. P makes a daring statement about his personal musical style.

Everything about The Prodigal was intentional. From the timing of the album, to the musical direction and features by his freshly signed P Classic Records artists, Mr. P carefully crafted the album into what he wanted it to be. In an effort to present an independent version of his craft, he took what he termed "the biggest risk of his career" by deviating from the quintessential P-Square sound. And it paid off, he happily testifies.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

5 South African Photo Books to Check Out

Here are some South African photo books on apartheid, jazz and Black life to familiarise yourself with.