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 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 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 Waligwa’s only film credit.
In the movie, 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 Oyewolo.
The film was directed by Mira Nair and starred Nyong’o, an Oscar winner for “12 Years a Slave,” as Phiona’s mother.
“She played Gloria with such vibrancy,” Nyong’o said on Instagram. “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.”
“Queen of Katwe” was the film debut of both Waligwa and Nalwanga.
“We mourn the loss of our beautiful Nikita Pearl Waligwa,” Oyewolo wrote on Instagram. “She was a ball of light in @queenofkatwemovie and in life. Her battle with a brain tumor was humbling to witness. Her light will live on.”
The New York Times