June 16, 2021

Nikita Pearl Waligwa, Star of ‘Queen of Katwe,’ Dies at 15

The Ugandan teenager, who debuted in the 2016 Disney film about a chess whiz, died of brain cancer, her school said.


Nikita Pearl Waligwa, the young Ugandan newcomer who starred in “Queen of Katwe,” the 2016 Disney film about a chess champion’s coming of age, has died of a brain tumor. She was 15.

Her death was announced on Sunday by Gayaza High School, an all-girls boarding school outside the Ugandan capital of Kampala where Ms. Waligwa had been a student.

“You were a darling to many and we have lost you to a brain tumor at such a tender age,” the high school said on Twitter.

The announcement prompted an outpouring of tributes from some of Ms. Waligwa’s co-stars in “Queen of Katwe,” which was based on a 2011 essay in ESPN The Magazine about a chess prodigy in Uganda who grows up in a slum and wins international competitions. The film starred Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. It was listed as Ms. Waligwa’s only film credit.

In the movie, Ms. Waligwa played Gloria, a friend of the protagonist, Phiona Mutesi, who was played by Madina Nalwanga.

Phiona becomes a chess whiz with help from Gloria and under the tutelage of Robert Katende, played by Mr. Oyewolo.

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