Review: Life of a King

Eugene Brown

WARNING: Review may contain spoilers! 🙂

When watching “Life of a King” one anticipates another “rags-to-riches” story that is typical of this genre of films. The only issue was… this wasn’t one of those films. Eugene Brown was not a rags-to-riches story as the community stalwart has never been motivated by riches.

However, his story is rich with lessons of life and proof that life is not over after a bad mistake. Such as in life as in chess. You make a mistake… gain your composure, acknowledge the mistake, stabilize your position, make an alternative plan and execute! This movie was full of those metaphors and lead actor Cuba Gooding characterized Brown’s challenges magnificently.

The movie starts off with chess being thrust in the forefront as Brown plays game after game (between cells) against his mentor “Searcy” played by Dennis Haysbert, an actor known for his distinctive resonant voice. On the eve of Brown’s release from a 17-year sentence, Searcy gives him a hand-carved black king as a permanent symbol of life’s lessons. He tells Brown, “Take care of the king. Everything else follows.” Chess has become such a common metaphor for the “chess is life” theme and civic chess organizations such as Big Chair Chess Club, Besomeone, Inc., Hip Hop Chess Federation and Words, Beats & Life all share this vision.

Brown gets out of prison only to be smacked by the reality of life itself. Back in “Chocolate City” (Washington, DC), he is not only rebuffed by companies hesitant to hire ex-cons but initially rejected by his estranged children Katrina (Rachae Thomas) and Marcus (Jordan Calloway). Katrina eventually warmed up as did Marcus… much later.

Throughout the film, Brown uses his knowledge of chess to navigate his social relationships. He turns down money and a “business opportunity” with former partner-in-crime, Perry (Richard T. Jones). In the past, Perry was someone who looked up to Brown, but now had built a successful crime business. In fact, Perry had lured Clifton (Carlton Byrd) and Tahime (Malcolm Mays) as street dealers… or “pawns”.

Brown had landed a custodial position with the Maud Alton High School, but on a whim was asked to stand-in as a detention officer when the students ran amok over a beleaguered teacher. Immediately, Brown was tested as he walked into a room of chaos. In a tense moment, Clifton challenged Brown in a tense stare-down… one in which Brown won. From then on, he won hearts, especially that of his beloved charge, “Peanut” (Kevin Hendricks).

Peanut was an inquisitive student who was looking for positivity and immediately latched onto Brown. Tahime was also impressed with Brown, but kept his tough outer shell to conceal his softcore. However, Brown had seen something in Tahime… a gift for chess. This was demonstrated as Tahime got bored with Brown “chess is life” speeches, sat down, and proceeded to brutally checkmate one of the other detention students. Brown was stunned.

“Take care of the king. Everything else follows.”

Brown had begun to win the heart of his daughter Katrina who was a pre-law student but was still rebuffed by Marcus after a visit to the juvenile lockup. How could Brown be successful at winning the hearts of his detention students, but not those of his own children? It was a question Brown kept searching for.

Brown gained an unlikely ally in Alton’s Principal Sheila King (LisaGay Hamilton) after an unfortunate technical error in his application. She supported his chess vision outside of the school. The launch of the “Big Chair Chess Club” became a gem in the community and it appeared that the momentum was going in the right direction.

The iconic board of the Big Chair Chess Club.

Brown then challenged the students and encouraged their participation in organized tournaments. Unfortunately, his top chess student Peanut was killed in a botched robbery attempt and his best friend Tahime witnessed his last breath. After this devastating tragedy, Tahime revealed his soft core and immediately sought mentorship from Brown. He also began to take a more serious interest in chess.

It was perhaps apropos that Brown invoked the name of Maurice Ashley, the first African-American Grandmaster. The point was to dispel Tahime’s false notions of chess as a “white game”. Still struggling with peer pressure from Clifton to do crimes for easy money, Tahime barely escaped a prison sentence. It was determined he played no role as accomplice in another botched robbery. As if karma was working, Clifton was jailed and his boss Perry abandoned him. Bad moves. Bad consequences.

Tahime had a troubled household with a drug-addicted mother and her abusive boyfriends. Chess became a refuge despite his mother’s discouragement. Tahime forged her signature to play in a tournament and waltzed through the field undefeated, but was disqualified when the illegal signature was discovered. Instead of standing up for Tahime and attempting to appeal the decision, Brown went on a radio interview and surprisingly supported the organization’s ruling. Brown remembering his own folly on the job application, reflected on the lesson and went on the side of truth.

After losing his dedicated student “Peanut”,
Tahime became the center of Brown’s attention.

Tahime would enter another open tournament with tougher competition. If you watch closely, you’ll see Brown in his trademark checkered cap as one of the directors. Tahime was up to the challenge and tied for first place only to meet the top seed player named J.T. Gaines (Blake Cooper Griffin). In a tense Armageddon battle, the two fought valiantly and after the game, there was an unexpected response from the audience. After the tournament, a member of the National Urban League, even approached Brown about Tahime’s college aspirations.

“Life of a King” is a story that is common to those of us in the Black community. We have recently heard of “Queen of Katwe” and “Brooklyn Castle“; however, many of these stories go untold because there are few outlets to highlight these accomplishments. Of course, The Chess Drum is one such place, but this movie will go a long way in bringing to light the fact that chess has brought social capital to impoverished communities around the world.

Brown continues his mission, but now lives in North Carolina.

In the January 2014 edition of Chess Life, it was reported by Jamal Abdul-Alim that Gooding said he had no knowledge of chess. Nevertheless, he feels that a movie on Ashley would be an important event! While these movies are indeed important, the stories are not heard often enough. Great effort that is worth a look!


    1. Dear Eugene Brown,
      You are a phenomenal role model
      For young people.
      So enjoyed your movie Life of a King
      God bless. Mary & Joseph

  1. Pingback: Daily Chess News Links January 21, 2014 |
  2. Cuba is a good actor but I think Don Cheadle should have played this role. He is a dead ringer for Mr. Brown!!!!!!!

    1. I believe Cheadle is quite busy right now (shooting several movies) and this role was offered as a last minute plea to Gooding who was going from one movie to another. They were fortunate he could squeeze it in. Sometimes you can’t always get a dead-ringer in movies, so you go for the talent.

  3. Mr Eugene Brown’s story is probably one of the most
    relevant stories I have heard this year.
    Sometimes when we hear true stories we walk away
    with moved hearts and enlightened minds but

    wondering how to make a difference. Mr. Brown has
    already done the foundation work…now others can
    get involved with his project and truly help change
    communities now! I have wondered how my son who has been
    incarcerated for 11+ years for making the wrong move
    and not seeing the end game…what he will do when he comes home
    to make the difference in his 10 year old son’s life will
    hopefully be a positive move because of seeing the end game
    now. I would love to see him and his son hosting Mr.Brown
    in our community and starting a new game together.

  4. Mr. Eugene Brown,…much respect! As a chess player, who trained playing ex-cons(who know the game) and others when growing up in Baltimore City, I appreciate the value of Mr. Brown’s gift to his family, and community. The story and acting is bigger than I ever expected before watching. Thank you to Mr. Brown, and to all of those involved in the movie project.
    Kimani A. Stancil

  5. This movie never came to my city, and I have not been able to find it on commercial movie sites. is it out on DVD yet??

      1. Much thanks! It is interesting that this movie did not show in my community of app. 250,000. I also wonder if there was any national advertisement, if so, I most have missed it. With the possibility of inspiring and motivating many of our youth this is more than a shame!

  6. Folks,
    I have been trying to get the owners of the cinema/movie franchise in Jamaica to allow me to have a special showing of the movie in Jamaica. At least three government ministers would be interested (one directly from the office of the Prime Minister) in partnering with the project. A sponsor has already been secured. The owners cannot facilitate it as the movie was not approved for release in our region!!! Incredible! I tracked down the distributors (in LA, California), letters were written, telephone calls etc. but absolutely no response after months of trying. I also went by the offices of the distributors during a trip to LA this year. Nonetheless, I still have some hope as one more possible avenue has opened which I will be pursuing.

    The simple idea is to invite Messrs. Brown and Gooding over for the showing; help to publicize Chess much more; motivate youngsters (especially those “at risk”); and inspire people serving prison sentences – especially as we are close to launching our “Chess in Prisons” programme that has already been approved by the relevant authorities!

    1. Amazing Ian!

      We have not been able to penetrate the prisons much here. They are not about rehabilitation, but punishment… it is a huge industry. There are some prison chess activities, but these places are very hard to work with here. In one article I wrote, the prison officials returned books “because they had code printed throughout”. These was games in algebraic notation!!

      Hopefully in Jamaica you’ll have a better chance. They dynamics are a bit different there.

  7. I think the movie was wonderful. I wish every one could see it. It proves that people can change. We all make mistakes but the beauty is when we learn from them. Mr Brown took his lemons and not only made lemonade. He is teaching others that they can too. Its just a shame that so many have had to suffer to bring us to this point. Thank you Mr Brown. May God bless you.

  8. This movie makes me think back on all of my ex-teammate at Carver middle school and high school. We grew up in a tough situation but our coach Mr. Louis Jones help us by showing he cared about us. That help a lot of us to stay out the street. So I really enjoyed the movie.

  9. We just saw the movie on Netflix and loved it! I’m here from a google search. Whatever happened to Tahime?

  10. Still looking for what happened to Taheme. Any word yet? I was a little disappointed that the end acknowledgements didn’t mention Taheme I would like to know.

  11. My guess is that Tahime is a fictional character that was introduced to create another aspect of the story/movie. The movie was meant to tell the story of Eugene Brown and in order to make it more interesting to the viewer, they brought in the character of Tahime

    1. From Eugene Brown…

      Tahieme in the movie is pursuing is acting career. Tahieme actuall portrayed my students Wendell Brown who is now a student at Maryland University and a chess instructor with the Sankofa Home Schools in DC…..

  12. I am a Native Washingtonian and I am ashamed to say that I have driven by the Chess House numerous times and never paid it any attention. I do apologize for that. I was sitting at home and flipping through the channels and stopped it right there and I must say that I am glad that I did. In my spare time I play checkers on my phone because I don’t know how to play CHESS! The things that Mr. Brown has done to inspire the inner city kids is truly immaculate! My son and I are going by the house on Monday to pay tribute to the inspirational beginning. He and I are planning to learn the game of “CHESS”!

  13. I just saw the movie for the 1st time…I live in LA & I wish there was a chess house here…in fact there should be chess houses nationwide. I loved the movie! What an inspiration!

  14. As a fellow Washingtonian, this feature film really changed my life. I too was a rebellious teen living in “The Hood” getting into trouble at every corner. Luckily, like Peanut (may he Rest in Power), I also had a teacher mentor me through my rough circumstances. As a result of his efforts, I now teach at that same school as an English teacher and I sponsor the after school chess club as well as volunteer my time at the local Boys and Girls club. I show this movie to all of my students and I can really feel the impact it has on their lives. Thank you Eugene Brown for being an inspiration to us ALL. Bless your heart, soul, and bank account. If you feel you have the need to reach out to me, please, do not hesitate! Feel free to write, or even visit me at the following address: 1348 Brentwood Rd NE, Washington, DC 20018
    Once again thank you for everything you’ve contributed to the community.

    P.S. I am extending my invitation to my home for anyone who would just like to sit down and chat! I take great pride in being a mentor not only to my students, but to all of God’s creations! 🙂

  15. Greetings from Cape Verde, Africa.
    Just saw this movie again, which a much better comprehension!
    Would love to meet and interact with Mr. Eugene Brown, even trying to duplicate here what is going on there…
    Cape Verde was the market place for slavery, on the coast of Africa, also known for the hurricanes being formed around these islands. It sure would be nice to be known for something else, Chess perhaps!
    GOD Bless you all.

  16. This movie was excellent, very inspired brought me to happy tears toward the end of the movie, sad about Peanut it started with him interested in chess he made the wrong choice and died. Now Mr. Eugene Brown had the second young man who was interested after letting go the streets . These kind of movies should be brought back into schools so other kids can be inspired. I can rewatch this show. Excellent actors throughout the movie, this is a gold 5 star rating movie.

  17. on this day July 19 2020 me and my friend seen this movie for the first time it was a very pleasant and meaningful movie we our in our early 60 years this still let us know we still have good old and true values looking forward to support and any matter for a blessed calling . stay blessed and safe.

  18. This was a very moving and powerful testimony that depicts many of our young black men in America. Mr. Brown is an awesome example of overcoming adversity in the middle of chaos…Gid bless Mr. Brown and every young black man in America! ??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button