Ugandan teen becomes chess star, Disney to make movie of her life

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News

Her story is the stuff inspirational movies are made of.

Phiona Mutesi, 15, escaped the slums of Uganda thanks to a chance encounter with a chess coach. Now an international chess star, Mutesi is the subject of a new book and the protagonist of a future Disney movie.

In 2005, missionary Robert Katende, started a chess program for children in Katwe, Uganda, one of the country's poorest slums.

"It teaches you how to assess, how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecasts, endurance, problem solving, and looking at challenges as an opportunity in all cases — and possibly not giving up," Katende told CNN. His chess program also included a hot bowl of porridge to everyone who showed up.

"The discipline, the patience...anything to do with life, you can get it in that game."

Mutesi attended the program just to get food. She took to the game quickly, walking four miles a day to chess practice. Within a year, she was showing exceptional skill.

She became the country's chess champion, representing Uganda at national chess tournaments. While she's still not considered among the world's top players, she's the first titled female Ugandan player — and is determined to reach the top.

"Chess gave me hope, whereby now I'm having a hope of becoming a doctor and ... a grand master," she told CNN.

"Earlier this year, Mutesi earned the title of Woman Candidate Master at the 40th Chess Olympiad. She's also the youngest ever to win the African Chess Championship," Fox Charlotte reported.

An article about Mutesi by ESPN's Tim Crothers went viral last year. Crothers' book on the young chess sensation, "The Queen of Katwe," was published this fall.

Read Crothers' moving ESPN article here.

"Phiona Mutesi is the ultimate underdog. To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. And finally, to be female is to be an underdog in Katwe," Crothers wrote last year.

"What she's done, just doesn't seem possible," Crothers told Fox Charlotte.

Hollywood loves an underdog story. Disney has optioned the rights to the book on Mutesi and is currently working on a film about the teen's extraordinary life.

"I feel happy," she said of the recent worldwide attention. "I'm excited. I didn't have hope that one time, one day, I would be like someone who can encourage people, and they start playing chess."