Ugandan teenager Madina Nalwanga has been nominated for the 2017 Critics Choice Awards.
Nalwanga plays Phiona Mutesi – an adolescent Ugandan girl who becomes the nation’s first female chess champion at the age of 15.
Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o also stars in the movie as Harriet Mutesi, raising her young daughter Phiona in the Ugandan slums of Katwe.
Nalwanga’s role (Phiona) as described by Creative Loafing’s Adjoa Danso.
Phiona’s story starts out simple: Too poor to attend school, she and her siblings sell corn on the streets of Uganda’s
Katwe, a severely undeveloped area just outside of the capital city of Kampala, to earn money after their father dies.
When Phiona sees her brother sneak away from his responsibilities, she follows him to Robert Katende’s (David Oyelowo) chess school. At first, she’s not welcome.
One boy wrinkles his nose at her — “Ugh, she stinks!” It’s surprising to learn that Phiona smells bad, because she’s dressed the same as the other kids. Even in the slums, class matters.
Nonetheless, Phiona has a fighter’s spirit, so she goes home, lathers up a sponge, scrubs herself clean, and washes her hair.
She returns to the school cleaned up and ready to learn. Before long, Katende, an out-of-work engineer, sees Phiona’s natural skill for the game.
Phiona defeats her opponent Pritchard, the best of the city boys in Chess, at King’s College putting her on the prodigy track and before long, she yearns to become a chess Master, competing in Sudan and Moscow, Russia.
In Moscow, Phiona competes against players from as far away as Canada to reach the Master level.
Nalwanga is the true star of the film and her perfomance is brilliant because she re-lives the life of her friend Phiona Mutesi- with whom she hails from the slums of Katwe where they used to sell corn for a living.
Nalwanga has been nominated in the category of Best Young Actor/Actress alongside Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Alex R. Hibbert (Moonlight), Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls), Sunny Pawar (Lion) and Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen).
The winners will be revealed live at the star-studded Critics’ Choice Awards gala, which will be broadcast from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica on A&E on Sunday.
The awards broadcast will immediately follow the “Critics’ Choice Red Carpet Live” on A&E. As previously announced, actor and comedian T.J. Miller will return as the show’s host.
“La La Land” leads all films this year with 12 nominations including Best Picture, Ryan Gosling for Best Actor, Emma Stone for Best Actress, Damien Chazelle for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Phiona Mutesi at a glance
Mutesi grew up in the Ugandan slum of Katwe, where as of 2011 fifty percent of teen girls were mothers; when
Mutesi was about three her father died of AIDS and shortly afterwards her older sister Juliet died of an unknown cause.
When Mutesi was about nine, and had already dropped out of school as her family could not afford to send her, she found a chess program run by the Sports Outreach Institute, which taught her how to play chess.
In 2010 she played six rounds on Board 2 and one round on Board 1 for Uganda at the 39th World Chess Olympiad scoring 1.5 points from the seven, and as of 2011 she was a three-time Women’s Junior Champion of Uganda.