The First Grader - Movie Review

Based on a true story, the First Grader is about Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo), a 84 year-old Kenyan man and former Mau Mau freedom fighter, who decides to join first graders in school when the government announces it will provide free primary education to all citizens. His motive being to be able to read, for himself, a letter from the government of unknown contents. Even when turned away several times, Maruge never gives up and eventually the head teacher, Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris), allows him in the class. However, this stirs up quite a bit of controversy as room in the schools are already limited. Maruge and Jane face the ugliness of politicians, journalists, angry villagers and thugs as they threaten to get in the way of Maruge right to learn.

Besides the heartwarming main story, the movie is full of Kenyan history. Throughout the movie, we are greeted with flashbacks about Maruge's tragic past when he was spent years in prison and endured endless torture when he was captured while fighting a war for independence against the British colonial occupants in the 1950s. It is a much more serious movie than I imagined. There was much violence in Kenya's past that affected many. The film is very enjoyable though and the characters are very likable. The actors were amazing! Though brilliant filming and editing, and many closeup shots, the director has managed to capture all the emotion that Litondo poured out through his eyes and posture. The audience really feels intimately for all that Maruge has gone through. Harris similarly warms up the screen with her portrayal of her character and provides a much needed contrast to the negativity of the other characters. Maruge's story is an inspiration and teaches a lesson to all that you are never too old to learn.

The First Grader is currently playing in select theaters.

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