Nikita Pearl Waligwa, a 15-year-old rising star from Uganda who was featured in Disney’s Queen of Katwe, has died.
According to published reports, the young actress passed away after a brain tumor diagnosis. Her death was announced on Sunday via Twitter by Gayaza High School, an all-girls boarding school outside the Ugandan capital of Kampala where Ms. 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 wrote.
According to local media, Walingwa was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 and the movie’s director Mira Nair organized fundraising efforts to help fund her treatment in India. She “made a recovery in 2017,” Deadline reported, but the tumor returned in 2018.
Mira Nair said goodbye on Twitter early Monday, writing: “The heart breaks to see you gone, too young, too soon.”
Although Queen of Katwe is listed as Waligwa’s only acting credit, she took audiences by storm with her amazing performance in the role. Based on the true story of chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi who learned the game at age nine and went on to compete in international competitions, Waligwa played Gloria, Mutesi’s friend, with Lupita Nyong’o taking on the role as Mutesi’s mother and David Oyelowo as her chess teacher.
Nyong’o took to Instgram to express her condolences for the young actress and her family, noting that her vibrancy really helped Waligwa stand out on set despite the fact she was battling an illness.
“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,” Nyong’o wrote on Instagram. “She 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.”
David Oyelowo echoed Lupita’s sentiment, writing a heartfelt post of his own about the young star.
“We mourn the loss of our beautiful Nikita Pearl Waligwa,” Oyelowo wrote. “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.”