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‘A Ball of Light’: Celebs React to Passing of ‘Queen of Katwe’ Actress Nikita Pearl Waligwa at Age 15

Several stars are mourning the passing of Ugandan child actress Nikita Pearl Waligwa, who died on Feb. 15 after a battle with brain cancer. She was just 15 years old.

Waligwa starred in the 2016 Disney film “Queen of Katwe,” which follows the true life story of chess phenom Phiona Mutesi, portrayed by actress Madina Nalwanga. Waligwa played the role of Gloria, a friend of Phiona’s who taught her the rules of the game.

Nikita Pearl Walingwa
Nikita Pearl Waligwa, 15, was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016. (Photo: @Gayaza High School / Twitter)

Mutesi would go on to become one of Uganda’s most successful chess players, winning three Ugandan Women’s Junior Championships and competing in several international Chess Olympiads, NBC News reports.

Actors David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o were among the notable figures who starred in the film, in which they portrayed Phiona’s chess coach and her mother, respectively. Both penned touching tributes to the late actress Waligwa, sending their condolences to all who knew her.

“It’s with great sadness that I post about the passing of Nikita Waligwa, the sweet, warm, and talented girl whom I worked with on the film Queen of Katww,” Nyong’o wrote on Instagram, adding: “She played Gloria with such vibrancy … My thoughts and prayers are with her family and community as they come to terms with having to say good bye so soon. May she truly rest in peace.”

Oyelowo lauded Waligwa as a “ball of light.”

“Her battle with a brain tumor was humbling to witness,” he added. “Her light will live on #RIP.”

According to BBC News, Waligwa has been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016. She was given the all-clear the next year and had seemingly recovered. However, doctors would discover another tumor in 2019.

Gayaza High School, where Waligwa was senior student in suburban Kampala, also mourned her passing Sunday. 

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