SA film location irks Ugandans

2016-10-09 07:14
Lupita Nyong’o plays Harriet Mutesi, Phiona’s mother, in the Disney film Queen of Katwe

Lupita Nyong’o plays Harriet Mutesi, Phiona’s mother, in the Disney film Queen of Katwe

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Ugandans are upset that some scenes from the new film Queen of Katwe, which details the rise of local chess star Phiona Mutesi, were shot in South Africa.

They are also miffed that the poor township children in the Disney-produced film speak polished British English.

The movie is based on the life of an illiterate pre-teen in the slums of Uganda’s capital city Kampala, who is introduced to chess and becomes a prodigy.

But all that is seen of the country, known as the Pearl of Africa, are a few panning shots of tea plantations and a scene on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The director, Mira Nair, said she shot scenes in South Africa because of the department of trade and industry’s generous tax rebates.

“To avail oneself of the tax rebate that you get in South Africa – which is 20% for everything that you shoot here – you have to shoot 50% of the film here,” she told City Press after the film’s premiere on Wednesday night at Montecasino in Johannesburg.

“This is what I was trying to tell the Ugandan government 12 years ago. Maybe now, after Queen of Katwe, it [a tax rebate] will happen.”

She said most of the scenes of Katwe, the informal settlement in Kampala where Mutesi spent her childhood, were shot there.

“In South Africa, we concentrated on all the chess championships [and the scenes involving] Sudan, Russia and the floods.

"We rebuilt Katwe in Danville, outside Pretoria, for the flood scenes and poured in gallons of water. It would have been a bit tough to do that in Kampala,” she said.

Ugandan journalist Timothy Kaligyere sparked the controversy after storming out of the Kampala premiere 20 minutes into the film.

“The acting by the Ugandans was typical – simplistic expression, overdone, overstated dialogue,” he ranted on his Facebook page.

Nair defended her actors.

“Look at the actresses, the children, Peter Odeke ... he is extraordinary as Barumba. Look at Esther Tebandeke, who plays Sara Katende: she is just a luminous person.”

Uganda’s film experts also hit back, saying Kaligyere did not know what he was talking about.

Veteran actor Philip Luswata told local national news website Matooke Republic that Kaligyere was “insane”.

“This gentleman must be a genius if 20 minutes is enough for him to be so trashy about a film. How would you expect a film made in Uganda, about Ugandans, with a cast of mainly Ugandan actors, not to take advantage of Ugandan English?” he said.

Ugandan filmmaker Hosea Jemba said: “Twenty minutes into [the film] Titanic, the ship had not even left the dock ... In Gladiator, by the 20th minute, Maximus had not even said 15 lines.

Predator took more than 40 minutes before we could make sense of the great piece ... Film has what we call an arc.”

Asked if she was pleased with the finished product, Mutesi said:

“The story is true ... that is my real story.”

Her coach, Robert Katende, said:

“If you are from Uganda, go to Katwe. In fact, everyone should go and see that Katwe is for real.”

Read more on:    mira nair  |  phiona mutesi  |  queen of katwe

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