Madina Nalwanga, 18
She came to the limelight as the main character, Phiona, in Queen of Katwe, a film about the Ugandan chess player who overcame the odds to make the society a better place. She has received accolades for her breakthrough role, including an NAACP Image Award, a Women Film Critics Circle Award and the most promising actor at the Africa Movie Academy Awards.
Madina was born in the poor Katwe neighborhood in Kampala, Uganda, and spent her childhood selling corn on the streets. Nalwanga was discovered by a casting director at a community dance class in the Kabalagala neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda, a slum known for prostitution.
During the filming of Queen of Katwe, David Oyelowo took Nalwanga to see Jurassic World with other kids from the set, and discovered she’d never seen a movie when she asked, “Is that what we are doing?” When she watched Queen of Katwe, it was only the second time she’d been inside a movie theater. She has said her young life closely mirrored that of her character Phiona in Queen of Katwe. At 17 years old, Forbes named her the youngest person on their 2018 “30 Under 30” list. According to a University of Oxford study from their department of Economics, students in Uganda who watched Queen of Katwe before taking their national exams received better grades than those who didn’t.