My husband found this little gem, The First Grader, and it was a movie that we both greatly enjoyed. (However, the violence, though not explicitly shown, had me turn my head away a few times.)
This film is about an 84 year old man name Maruge who goes to the local elementary school to attend when he hears that all Kenyans are eligible to a free public education. Maruge was part of the Mau Mau who sought to end British rule in Kenya in the 1950s. Maruge’s allegiance to his country and vow to remove the British from Kenya cost him dearly, and his life is never the same. Now, decades later, he seeks to learn to read and write. Of course, he is initially turned away and ineligible to join the elementary students, but Maruge remains undeterred.
This movie is about Maruge, his life, his determination, and his quest to learn to read. It is also about fighting for what you believe in, despite the costs.
This film won several awards including some from the NAACP, as well as from the Toronto Film Festival and the Nashville International Film Festival.
While the subject matter can be heavy, it is frequently lightened through comic relief. We found ourselves cheering for Maruge the whole way.
Since my husband and I are both life long learners and encourage our oldest to read as much as possible (though at this point he is a total bookworm and needs no incentive), we could appreciate Maruge’s desire to learn. I can’t imagine what it would be like going through life without being able to read, though, unfortunately, many in the world still do.
I also appreciated Maruge’s willingness to tolerate humiliation and sit with small children in the classroom just to learn.
Watching this movie made me grateful for the access to free education as well as the relatively peaceful environment we live in.
Also interesting is that years after his life changing involvement with the Mau Mau, Maruge still seems to be suffering from what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder. His post-traumatic stress disorder flares up in unlikely moments and is sometimes taken out on his small classmates.
The Kenyan scenery is beautiful, and the film was enjoyable. However, even know I am bothered by some of the violent scenes.
On my own personal Mom’s Plans scale, I give this move 4.5 out of 5 stars.