Nikita Pearl Waligwa, the 15-year-old who starred in Disney’s Queen of Katwe, died tragically Sunday of a brain tumor.
According to Uganda’s Daily Monitor, the young actress was diagnosed with the tumor in 2016 as she took on the role of Gloria in Katwe. It was a movie based on the life of Phiona Mutesi who started playing chess at nine despite living in the Ugandan slum of Katwe and not being in school. She ultimately competed in international tournaments and won. Waligwa was cast as Gloria, the daughter of Lupita Nyong’o’s character, and she explained chess to her friend Phiona, helping her become a champion.
Nyong’o honored Waligwa upon news of her passing with a touching tribute on Instagram.
“It is with great sadness that I post about the passing of Nikita Waligwa, the sweet, warm, talented girl whom I worked with on the film, Queen Of Katwe. She played Gloria with such vibrancy. In her real life she had the enormous challenge of battling brain cancer,” the Oscar winner wrote.
“My thoughts and prayers are with her family and community as they come to terms with having to say goodbye so soon. May she truly rest in piece. May it be well with her soul.”
Mira Nair, director of Queen of Katwe, was said to have tried to get funding for treatment in India for Waligwa as there was not the necessary equipment in Uganda. In 2017, the teenager recovered and was given a clean bill of health but another tumor was found last year.
Waligwa was a senior at Gayaza High School at the time of her death. The oldest girl’s school in Uganda paid tribute to the fallen star.
“Fare thee well Nikita Pearl Waligwa. You were a darling to many and we have lost you to brain tumor at such a tender age. Nikita was in S.3. Rest in Perfect Peace dear,” the school tweeted.
Fare thee well Nikita Pearl Waligwa. You were a darling to many and we have lost you to brain tumor at such a tender age. Nikita was in S.3. Rest in Perfect Peace dear pic.twitter.com/ny8I9YAjsQ
— Gayaza High School (@gayazahigh) February 16, 2020
David Oyelowo, who played her chess teacher in Katwe, fondly remembered her on social media. He described her as a “light” and described being humbled as she fought her illness.
“We mourn the loss of our beautiful Nikita Pearl Waligwa. 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. 💔#rip,” Oyelowo captioned the post.
Rest In Peace.