By Lisa Vives
Nikita Pearl Waligwa, who starred as the friend of chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi in the 2016 Disney film “The Queen of Katwe”, passed away on February 15 after a valiant struggle with cancer. She was 15 years of age.
The film, which starred David Oyelowo as the chess teacher, Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother, and Madina Nmwanta as Phiona, was based on a true story about the young Mutesi. She learns to play chess and becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her victories at World Chess Olympiads.
Waligwa played the role of Gloria, a close friend of Phiona, who taught her how to play chess.
Noted American Indian filmmaker Mira Nair directed the film and also mobilized people to help fund the young girl’s treatment in India after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Ugandan doctors were quoted as saying they did not have the necessary equipment.
Africa’s shortage of surgical services for women with cancer was recently outlined in the online State of Oncology in Africa, published July 2019. “The contrast in diagnosis, treatment and its outcome between high-resource and low-resource countries is dramatic,” the authors wrote. “Africa presents an enormous challenge… yet there has been little investment in capacity of any sort to deal with the current cancer problem.”
Austria, to take one example, possesses one radiotherapy machine for every 200,000 people or fewer, while many low-resource countries like Tanzania have only one radiotherapy machine for up to 10 million people. Some of the world’s poorest nations have no radiotherapy facilities whatsoever and those that have a facility frequently find that the machine is broken.
“Radical solutions are urgently needed: the status quo is not an appropriate response to the current situation.”
Waligwa’s co-stars, writing for CNN, commented: “Her battle with a brain tumor was humbling to witness. Her light will live on.” (D. Oyelowo), and “In her real life she had the enormous challenge of battling brain cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and community as they come to terms with having to say goodbye so soon.”