Nikita Pearl Namata Waligwa was one of the many children that were cast alongside Madina Nalwanga for the Walt Disney sports drama Queen of Katwe.
The film that starred Kenyan actress Lupita Nyongo and British actor David Oyelowo also had a cast of Ugandans such as Esther Tebandeke, Taryn Kyazze, Martin Kabanza, Joanita Bewulira, Peter Odeke and of course Waligwa.
Queen of Katwe, based on Tim Crothers’ book, captures a story of chess prodigy Phiona Muteesi played by Nalwanga, who rises from the slums of Katwe to becoming a woman candidate master.
Waligwa acted as Gloria, one of the children that were being taught how to play chess. In a defining scene, Gloria is asked to give Phiona beginner’s lessons in chess.
That is when she said: “In chess, the small one can become the big one.” This line was monumental that it made it to the film’s official trailer. When the film premiered in Kampala in 2018, many would randomly say the words before greeting her.
On Saturday, Waligwa died of a brain tumor. Her illness got to the public domain last year when the family was seeking $20,000 (about Shs73m) to take her to India for treatment. However, it turns out that Waligwa had been sick for a longer time.
Battle with illness
In February 2017, Waligwa was declared free of any danger. She managed to return to school at Gayaza High School until last year when she was diagnosed of the illness. She did not fully recover until her death on Saturday.
Waligwa’s funeral service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe on Sunday. The service was attended by friends, family, and teachers and colleagues from Kampala Junior Academy and Gayaza High School.
Ms Robinah Kizito Katongole, the headmistress of Gayaza High School, said Waligwa was a student who desired to be the best in everything she did.
“Even in pain, she never showed it,” she said.
Mr David Oyelowo, who acted as Robert Katende, Gloria’s coach, described the deceased as a ball of light in the film. “Her battle with a brain tumor was humbling to witness,” he said.
Lupita Nyongo also took to Instagram to mourn the fallen actress. “She played Gloria with such vibrancy. In her real life, she had the enormous challenge of battling brain cancer,” she said.