The King Behind Queen of Katwe

Photo credit: Walt Disney Company

Former finance professional, Tendo Nagenda is one of the key players who brought Disney’s ‘Queen of Katwe’ to life and in such a beautiful way.

I have always had a strong fascination with the people behind the scenes that are instrumental to creating works of art that we enjoy today. For me, it’s about the minds behind the brilliant concepts and ideas that the world loves, and the kind of qualities these masterminds possess in order to accomplish what the world is truly inspired by. That is my inspiration.

About Tendo

Born to first-generation immigrants, Tendo is the first son of an Ugandan father and Belizean mother. He was raised for a while in Los Angeles and at age 12, spent two years living in Kampala, Uganda where he got exposed to his African roots.

Professionally, he obtained a degree in economics and politics which led to him becoming a finance consultant at Deloitte & Touche. He then chose to pursue a different career path altogether.

Tendo Nagenda: A Career Trajectory Many Africans Can Relate To

In reading his story, a lot elements resonated deeply with me. Having been raised across different countries and travelled to several regions myself, I too have developed a strong love and desire for my continent. Here are a number of reasons why I connected so deeply to Tendo Nagenda’s story:

  • Similar to him, I am the by-product of an inter-cultural marriage thanks to my Ndebele father and Shona mother.
  • He initially studied and pursued a career path that would provide him with a secure future. As Africans, a lot of us understand that job and financial security are at the top of our parents’ priority lists for their children. In so doing, there are often restrictions and pressures to study for certain degrees (think accounting, law, medicine, commerce). This often leads to being unfulfilled as Tendo was and the subsequent quest for purpose and meaning tends to happen once we are established in said ‘approved’ profession.
  • As a result, we often have to juggle our reality and our dreams. Tendo took classes at the New York Film Academy & then UCLA in order to bridge the gap between his current position and desired career path.
  • Our success tends to happen against all odds. Africans are often deemed to be at the bottom of the food chain and in a lot of ways, few hold influential positions in key industries that shape perceptions and the world. Tendo had to fight against these restrictions.
  • We often have to work for a lower pay and sometimes discriminatory conditions because we are foreign. Tendo articulated this so well in his interview with Face 2 Face Africa:

“Another challenge – and I expect it would be for a lot of people, in particular first generation children of working-class immigrants – is that when you’re first starting out in the entertainment industry, you are very poorly paid and it’s hard to make a living. You have college debt or family obligations; you want to help your family out and not be still dependent on them.”

In a lot of ways I can resonate with this. As an immigrant or someone living in the diaspora, you do whatever it takes to build a career for yourself and sometimes it means being taken advantage of. This goes beyond just the entertainment industry.

  • You have to prove yourself ten times harder than most. Even though he stumbled across Tim Crother’s article of Phiona Mutesi’s story in 2011, the world only got to see his vision come to life in 2016. In order to make it happen, he had to first prove himself with Disney success films ‘Saving Mr Banks’ and ‘Cinderella’ before his dream project came to life. I have always felt that we have to work much harder as Africans to prove ourselves to the world especially as young, black African women.
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: (L-R) Executive Vice President of Production, The Walt Disney Studios, Tendo Nagenda, President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, Sean Bailey, chaperone Mark Mugwana, Chess Coach and Director of Sports Outreach in Uganda, Robert Katende, Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi, Director Mira Nair, actors Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Kabanza and David Oyelowo, screenwriter William Wheeler and composer Alex Heffes arrive at the U.S. premiere of Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The film, starring David Oyelowo, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga, is directed by Mira Nair and opens in U.S. theaters in limited release on September 23, expanding wide September 30, 2016. On September 20, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Tendo Nagenda; Mark Mugwana; Madina Nalwanga; Lupita Nyong'o; David Oyelowo; Sean Bailey; Robert Katende; Phiona Mutesi; Mira Nair; Martin Kabanza; William Wheeler; Alex Heffes

Photo credit: Moms n Charge

All of this is such an incredible inspiration especially for me as a young, black African. So moved. * Queue Donny Hathaway’s “To Be Young, Gifted & Black”.*

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