The First Grader Parent Guide
"The First Grader" is a powerful reminder that illiteracy is a prison itself. But one that can be unlocked if the right keys are available.
Parent Movie Review
When is a person too old to learn? According to teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris), it is when your ears are full of soil. Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo) might be 84-years-old but he is still above ground. In his mind, at least, that makes him eligible to take advantage of the Kenyan government’s 2003 initiative to offer free primary education to the post-colonial populace.
Although he is decades older than the other students in the rural school near his home, Maruge takes the government’s announcement seriously and begs to be admitted into the classroom. He even comes wearing a uniform and carrying the mandatory school supplies. While Maruge’s ambition is admirable, his desire to be in the classroom forces Jane to take sides against school administrators (Vusi Kunene) and her fellow teachers (Shoki Aokgapa, Alfred Munyua). The resulting threats and media attention strains relations with her husband Charles (Tony Kgoroge) as well. Fortunately Maruge proves to be a valuable role model to his young classmates who must learn under circumstances that most students in first-world countries can’t begin to comprehend.
Many of the villagers also argue he is taking precious resources away from the younger generation, the ones who are the future of the country. And some audience members may agree. Are educational opportunities wasted on a man of his age who has little hope of ever graduating?
Apparently Director Justin Chadwick didnt think so when he took a skeleton production crew with him to Kenya’s Rift Valley with the intention of telling Maruge’s story. Hiring many locals and filming inside a real school with real students, Chadwick produces an authentic and moving look at one man’s quest for education.
As a former fighter in the Mau-Mau Rebellion that pitted natives against the British Army, Maruge suffered brutal treatment at the hands of the invading military, including being forced to watch his wife (Emily Njoki) and children shot in front of him. Other violent beatings and torture methods are depicted in flashback scenes. Those portrayals, along with some brief male nudity in a prison scene will likely make this story too intense for preteens. Unfortunately the flashbacks are interjected in a way that makes it difficult at first to know what era the action is taking place in.
Having known an elderly woman who never learned to read, I understand Maruge’s frustration at being unable to make sense of the words on a page. As these students struggle to learn in an overcrowded classroom without any advantages other than a dedicated teacher, The First Grader is a powerful reminder that illiteracy is a prison itself. But one that can be unlocked if the right keys are available.Directed by Justin Chadwick. Starring Oliver Litondo, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Sam Feuer. Running time: 104 minutes. Theatrical release June 16, 2011. Updated July 17, 2017
The First Grader
Rating & Content Info
Why is The First Grader rated PG-13? The First Grader is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some disturbing violent content and brief nudity.
Violence: Villagers are beaten, tortured and imprisoned by invading armies. Prisoners are stripped, blasted with water and packed into a small area. A man is forced to watch his wife and children killed. A man has a pencil jabbed into his ear. Another character is hung by his feet and whipped repeatedly. Some bloody injuries are seen briefly. A woman has her child pulled away from her. Characters receive threatening calls and are the victim of some violent acts. A man hits others with a stick. Characters spread lies and throw objects at others.
Sexual Content: Male nudity is seen briefly in a nonsexual context when prisoners are stripped. A couple kisses. Some brief sexual discussions occur.
Language: The script includes only a handful of mild and moderate profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Men repeatedly invite another to come and drink with them. Some secondary characters smoke.
Page last updated July 17, 2017
The First Grader Parents' Guide
Do you agree with Maruge’s desire to go to school? Was the primary institution the best place for him to attend? Did his presence help or hinder the other students?
How do tribal differences continue to haunt Kenyan society? Why is it difficult to leave prejudice behind? How do those who did not side with the British view those who did?
In September 2005, Maruge addressed the United Nations. Do you think this kind of publicity helps make others aware of needs or is it simply a good photo op for politicians? What efforts are being made to fight illiteracy? How can you be involved in your own community? Learn about some projects that are underway at Literacy.org.
The most recent home video release of The First Grader movie is December 27, 2011. Here are some details…
The First Grader releases to home video on December 27, 2011.
Related home video titles:
Endurance and Rabbit Proof Fence are other true stories adapted to film that exemplify indigenous people with incredible determination. The Gods Must Be Crazy shows the misadventures of a fictional schoolteacher in Africa.