'Queen of Katwe' Star Nikita Pearl Waligwa Dies of Brain Tumor at Age 15

Illustration for article titled 'Queen of Katwe' Star Nikita Pearl Waligwa Dies of Brain Tumor at Age 15
Screenshot: NAIROBI (YouTube)

Nikita Pearl Waligwa was a young newcomer to the acting world from Uganda. She was bright, gifted and adored by her co-stars in the 2016 Disney film Queen of Katwe, based on the true story of a chess champion’s coming of age. So it’s truly saddening that the young, budding actress has died of a brain tumor at age 15.


Waligwa played Gloria in Queen of Katwe, a friend of the protagonist, Phiona Mutesi, who was played by Madina Nalwanga.

The film also starred Lupita Nyong’o, who played Phiona’s mother and said via Instagram that Nikita “played Gloria with such vibrancy.”

“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.”

Waligwa’s 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.


David Oyelowo, another of Nikita’s co-stars, wrote on Instagram: “She was a ball of light in Queen of Katwa and in life.”


Waligwa had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 and seemed to recover from her ailment a year later. She received radiotherapy treatment in India as Uganda didn’t have the necessary equipment at the time and was told she was cancer-free at one point. But, in 2019, another tumor was found. Queen of Katwe director Mira Nair helped organize efforts to fund Waligwa’s treatment during filming, according to BBC.


It is a tragic and heartbreaking loss and my thoughts, prayers and well wishes go out to Nikita’s family as well as all the others whose lives were touched by this “sweet, warm, talented” and enormously beautiful soul.

Rest well, Nikita.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons


Manic Otti

That sucks. My friend died of a similar thing around that age. He was also very gifted and probably would have been a tech mogul today if he had lived.