Movie Review: The First Grader

February 29, 2012  By: Gretchen

The First Grader tells the inspirational story of Maruge, an eighty year old Mau Mau veteran in Kenya who wants to learn to read and write in his twilight years.  Maruge tries to enter primary school after the Kenyan government promises free education to ‘all’.  It turns out that ‘all’ is relative and that Maruge has to fight to get an education.  The movie tells a wonderful story but did surprise in how immersed it became in Kenyan politics.  It also reflects heavily on the Mau Mau rebellion which includes some violence.

The film is full of emotion and also humor and it explores the relationships Maruge builds with his primary school classmates as well as his teacher.  The head teacher supports his struggle to gain admission to the school and together they face fierce opposition from parents and officials who don’t want to waste ‘free’ education on an old man. The film also illustrates the ostracism that he faces from his local community. Through flashbacks, we are taken through Maruge’s part in the story of British colonial rule and his role as a member of the opposition.

The film is heartfelt, well acted and immensely enjoyable.  It gives some insight into the conditions during the waning days of colonial rule and tells an endearing tale based on a real story. Highly recommended.

Photo courtesy ‘The First Grader’ movie