Now that Queen of Katwe is available for home viewing (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere), hopefully it secures a larger audience than it did in theaters.
Note that the movie, under the sturdy but far-from-flashy direction of Mira Nair, takes a bit of patience. At just over two hours (do keep watching after the credits begin—the real individuals portrayed in the film join the actor who portray them, complete with biographical updates) it's a methodically-paced story. And it's basically the same underdog story you've seen before in countless sports-oriented films. But things are also more cerebral as Phiona discovers that studying chess unlocks the potential of her mind. In a Rocky film you get pulse-pounding training films, but Katwe isn't leading up to a fight in front of a gigantic crowd. The triumphs here are of a decidedly lower-key nature.
The cast is uniformly effective, including Lupita Nyong'o as Phiona's ever-struggling mother. Life in the slum of Katwe isn't depicted as a terribly depressing existence. The reason for the de-emphasis on the harsh realities of life in such a downtrodden region seems to be twofold. For one, the tone of the film is clearly meant to be as family-friendly as possible. To their credit, the filmmakers have not gussied up Katwe with cutesy cuddliness. Beyond any commercially-motivated impositions, director Nair appears to have intentionally sidestepped clouding her film with an overly pessimistic atmosphere. The only inherent, "baked-in" issue that Nair doesn't quite overcome is just how hard it is to make chess visually engaging. Just go with it though, the rewards are there for those who give Queen of Katwe a chance.