EXCLUSIVE: David Oyelowo and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o are in negotiations to star in Queen Of Katwe, a pic based on the true story about the rise of a young African chess prodigy. Mira Nair is directing the pic in a reteam with her Reluctant Fundamentalist scribe William Wheeler, who penned the script. Disney is eyeing a spring shooting start.
Katwe is based on Tim Crothers’ 2011 ESPN The Magazine article and subsequent book The Queen Of Katwe: A Story Of Life, Chess, And One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream Of Becoming A Grandmaster. It tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, who emerged out of a slum in Uganda to reach the World Chess Olympiad with the help and belief of her coach-mentor Robert Katende. Oyelowo, who’s up for a Golden Globe this weekend, will play Katende. Nyong’o will play Harriet Mutesi, Phiona’s young mother.
John Carls and longtime Nair collaborator Lydia Dean Pilcher are producing in association with ESPN Films. I’m hearing the true-life Cinderella story will be budgeted around $15M.
It would be the second film together for Oyelowo, who’s riding the wave of his breathtaking turn as Martin Luther King Jr in Paramount’s Selma, and Nyong’o, last year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for 12 Years A Slave. Both are attached to the feature adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, the love story of two young immigrant Nigerians as their lives span continents. (Like Selma and 12 Years, that in-development project is from Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner’s Plan B.)
Oyelowo is up for a bunch of best actor awards for playing King on his 1965 Alabama civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, including at Sunday’s Globes. Nyong’o is in Disney’s upcoming Star Wars movie and also is the voice of Raksha in Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book.
Queen Of Katwe will be shot in South Africa and Uganda, the latter where Nair lives and runs the Maisha Film Labs, a film training initiative to give aspiring filmmakers there the tools and knowledge to tell their own stories through film and eventually create a local industry there. Nair’s 1991 film Mississippi Masala was shot on location in Kampala.
Oyelowo is repped by CAA Hamilton Hodell, Inphenate and attorney Ira Schreck. Nyong’o is repped by CAA, D2 Management and attorney Nina Shaw. Nair is repped by ICM Partners and Wheeler by UTA, Anonymous Content and Jackoway, Tyerman.