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Thursday December 2nd

The movie inspired by a UNC professor's book is premiering today

<p>(from left)&nbsp;UNC film professor Tim Crother, his son, Atticus,&nbsp;daughter, Sawyer, and wife, Candace, pose at the premiere of the new Disney movie Queen of Katwe in Hollywood. Photo Courtesy of Tim Crother.</p>
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(from left) UNC film professor Tim Crother, his son, Atticus, daughter, Sawyer, and wife, Candace, pose at the premiere of the new Disney movie Queen of Katwe in Hollywood. Photo Courtesy of Tim Crother.

From a slum in Uganda to the silver screen, UNC professor and author Tim Crothers has brought the story of chess and a young girl’s dream across the world. A Disney and ESPN film based off of his book, “Queen of Katwe,” will begin showing Friday, Sept. 30, at Silverspot in Chapel Hill.

In 2010, Crothers visited Uganda to hear the story of a young girl named Phiona Mutesi, who found her dream by way of a chess board. Both the book and movie focus on Mutesi’s journey from a slum in Uganda, to discovering chess, to following her dream in a country where women are usually not encouraged to have any. 

Award-winning actors Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo star in the movie. Crothers said it’s surreal seeing the story come halfway across the world, from Katwe, Uganda, to theaters in Chapel Hill.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken (Mutesi’s) power, which she’s clearly shown she has on a micro-level, and we’ve taken it to a macro level with a movie,” he said. “That’s where I feel like she can have that same power.”

The Hollywood premiere of “Queen of Katwe” was on Sept. 20, which Crothers attended, and he said it was something he never thought would be a reality. 

“To have what I considered my little story about a slum girl in Uganda who becomes a chess champion make it into a Hollywood marquee,” he said. “You can walk into that marquee and watch the film in a Hollywood theater, it’s something that I never really believed was going to happen.”

When it comes to the movie living up to his book and Mutesi’s experience, Crothers said it was everything he’d hoped for.

“As an author what you notice when the film’s over is the 90 percent of the story that has to be left out,” he said. “That said, what they did, what they were able to capture in that two hours I think is extraordinary — it did do justice to Phiona, and her story.”

The movie received raving reviews, with the New York Times saying, “If there is anyone out there capable of remaining unmoved by this true-life triumph-of-the-underdog sports story, I don’t think I want to meet that person.” 

Crothers said the way the film captured the emotionality of the situation was extraordinary, and people at the premiere were leaving the theater in tears.

“The ending of the movie is very effective,” he said. “I don’t want to give it away, but the ending of the movie is very deeply emotionally affecting and I appreciate the way that they were able to wrap it up in such a captivating way.”

He said Mutesi has seen the movie, and, although Uganda doesn’t have the same type of culture surrounding movies as the United States, she was still humbled by it.

“She’s not someone who gets caught up in the celebrity —honestly she would much prefer to be back in school in Uganda as opposed to doing a movie promotional tour in the US,” he said. “But I can tell seeing her moments after the movie, and in Hollywood, that it means a lot to her.”

He said what’s important to her regarding the movie is that it encourages others to pursue their dreams.

“I do think she appreciates the way the story was told and the way that she is, that her story is able to have an inspirational effect on kids around the world,” he said.

The same goes for him. Crothers said that as a journalist, it’s important to pursue stories like Mutesi’s because they inspire other people.

“The beauty of what we do is when you write a story you can say to yourself, 'if I can change one life, isn’t that worth it?'" he said. 

Katie Ryan, senior psychology major, said she hadn't heard of the film, but was very impressed at the news a UNC professor had a movie based off his book.

"I think that's awesome if it's being made into a Disney movie," she said. 

Junior Psychology major Akbar Jamani hadn't heard of the story either, but was intrigued. 

"That sounds big, good for him," he said. 

Crothers, who was a former writer for ESPN, said this is why he loves writing — so he can share inspiring stories. 

“To me, that is the reason why I do what I do; because I think that we’re all put here with an opportunity to do something with our lives that can improve the lives of others.”


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