Madina Nalwanga’s past is relatively unknown, as the young actress had never acted before her role as Phiona Mutesi in Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Her only connection to the arts before the film was that she was a dancer in Uganda. When casting the character of Phiona, the film's director Mira Nair claimed that finding an actress to play the role was difficult, and they auditioned nearly 700 girls. However, the film's casting director found the then 15-year-old Ugandan dancer Madina in a community dance class, and took her to meet the director.
The character of Phiona is an impoverished young girl who lives in the Ugandan slums. It is not until she encounters coach Katende (David Oyelowo) that she discovers her natural talent for chess. In interviews with Queen of Katwe's Lupita Nyong’o, the actress said that Madina had a similar life to Phiona in many ways. Madina too, grew up in a slum, and also sold corn when she was younger. When Lupita asked Madina to take her and the cast to the market, Madina taught them how to buy ingredients for a typical Ugandan meal and how to cook it. That experience was what Lupita said had started a natural familial dynamic with all of the cast.
While it is currently unknown if she will be acting in any upcoming films, you can catch Madina in Queen of Katwe, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Filmography:Queen of Katwe (2016)