Queen of Katwe

By Ankit Verma

Mailed on October 07, 2016

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Dear Eniola Dawodu
Assistant Costume Designer

Dear Eniola,

Queen of Katwe depicts the incredible true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young chess prodigy who rose to international fame through her mastery of the checkered sport, despite being raised in the slums of Katwe, Uganda,

In order to truly capture what life was like for Phiona and her family, your boss and Lead Costume Designer, Mobolaji Dawodu sourced her mother’s closet and the street markets of Uganda to find authentic pieces of fabric for you to work with. Mobolaji set the theme and direction, but your treatment brought it all to life.

Throughout the film, emotions are represented through your wardrobe choices. When we first see Phiona, she is selling corn on the street to support her mom and siblings. Though she is bright and happy - as evidenced by her her gold and green sleeveless sweater - it isn’t until she discovers chess that she sees a life outside of what she’s used to.

Phiona recognizes her potential but is conflicted – should she stay to care for her family and live a life full of hardship, or follow her dreams and leave an old life behind. Her once charismatic demeanour turns sallow. You show us her inner struggle on the outside, via her attire. The greys and paler tones come out, and the only time Phiona wears a loud, warm colour is when she’s in the presence of a chessboard.

Phiona shines when she’s face-to-face with an opponent. When she’s in control of where the pieces fall she’s charming, witty, and decisive. For Phiona, chess isn’t just a game, it’s an act of defiance against the path that’s been predetermined for her. And nothing says defiance like walking into a room full of private school-educated, uniformed snobs while sporting a bright, yellow cardigan and run-down sandals, then landing a checkmate.

When Phiona competes in her native Uganda, your clothing takes a stance against the class structure. Your purposeful mismatching proves a point against those who scoff at the sight of tattered clothes and elbows on the dinner table. It’s a blatant fuck you to the prim and proper clothes that the wealthy take for granted. Yet the same clothing that causes a ruckus in Uganda is used as a symbol for the country once Phiona starts travelling to international competitions.

Once Phiona gains the respect of not only her city, but her country as well, your clothing represents the spirit of a nation. It accompanies her as she dances and parades through the streets after a victory and reflects her newfound optimism.

Phiona lets her chess pieces do the talking, but your wardrobe does the yelling.

You made your style decisions methodically, just like any experienced chess player considers their next set of moves. Your wardrobe spoke volumes when the players were forced to be quiet. But most importantly, you helped tell the story of a remarkable young girl who didn’t let any pieces stand in her way, both in life and sport.



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