The First Grader
|The First Grader|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Justin Chadwick|
|Produced by||Sam Feuer
|Written by||Ann Peacock|
|Music by||Alex Heffes|
|Edited by||Paul Knight|
|Distributed by||National Geographic Entertainment|
The First Grader is a 2010 biographical drama film directed by Justin Chadwick. It stars Naomie Harris, Oliver Litondo, and Tony Kgoroge. The film is based on the true story of Kimani Maruge, a Kenyan farmer who enrolled in elementary school at the age of 84 following the Kenyan government's announcement of free universal primary education in 2003.
In 2003, a disc jockey announces over a Kenyan radio station that the government is offering free primary school education to all natives who can prove citizenship with a birth certificate. Kimani Maruge (Litondo), an 84-year-old villager, hears this and decides to take it upon himself to seek an education. Arriving at his local school, he meets Jane Obinchu (Harris), the principal and teacher. He expresses his desire to learn how to read. Her teaching colleague Alfred (Munyua), ridicules him and demands he leave. Later, Jane informs her husband Charles (Kgoroge) about Maruge. He discourages her in supporting his educational endeavor.
After beginning his initial classes, Maruge is plagued by memories of his service during the Mau Mau Uprising against the British in the 1950s. He begins to hallucinate and becomes confrontational with the students, struggling to continue his academics. Controversy begins to stir over Maruge’s education. Soon enough, the story that an elderly man going to school becomes national headlines. Mr. Kipruto (Kunene), a superintendent of the school district, is alerted to the situation and strongly disapproves of Maruge's predicament and suggests that he go to an adult educational facility.
Meeting with the head of the education board to plead Maruge’s case, Jane is overruled. It is explained to her that if an exception is made to keep Maruge in the school, others will follow, and many schools will eventually become filled with older people sitting aside children. Maruge is forced to attend an adult learning centre, where he soon finds himself surrounded by people with no motivation or ambition to study. Maruge vows to never go back to the adult institution. Jane later decides to offer him a reprieve, to work as her teaching assistant. As Maruge's story gains publicity and attention, the local press descend on the school, causing friction among the parents. The villagers believe Jane and Maruge are seeking fame and fortune at the expense of the children. Following negative feedback and random acts of violence against the school, Jane soon receives a letter that she is to be transferred to another educational institute a few hundred miles away.
Jane reveals to Maruge that she is relocating, and then commences an emotional goodbye with the children. Following protests and disobedience on part of the students towards their new teacher, Maruge is motivated to travel to Nairobi to appeal himself to the education board. Jane is reinstated at the school, where Maruge and the children are there to welcome her. The film's epilogue displays a series of graphics stating that at age 84, Maruge is the oldest person to start primary school according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Supplementally, he was invited to make a speech before international leaders at the UN in New York regarding the power of education. He inspired a whole new generation of people to go to school for the first time. Maruge later died in 2009.
- Naomie Harris as Jane Obinchu
- Oliver Litondo as Kimani Maruge
- Alfred Munyua as Alfred
- Tony Kgoroge as Charles Obinchu
- Vusi Kunene as Mr. Kipruto
- Sam Feuer as American Journalist
US based film producer Sam Feuer found the story on the front page of the LA Times and optioned the rights. He, and then, producing partner Richard Harding, partnered with BBC Films and hired Ann Peacock to write the screenplay. The British produced film was shot on location in the Rift Valley in Kenya, despite earlier reports that it would be filmed in South Africa. Director Chadwick conveyed, "We could have shot it in South Africa, but Kenya has this unbelievable, inexplicable energy inherent in the children, and the people we were making the film about".
Among mainstream critics the film received generally mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a fresh score of 60% based on reviews from 71 critics, with an average score of 5.6 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, The First Grader was given a score of 56 based on 21 reviews.
- "Simple Quest for Literacy Hits a Wall of Politics". A.O. Scott. The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-17.
- Interview with director Justin Chadwick, reproduced by Soda Pictures. Theatrical Press Kit. Retrieved 2015-12-15.
- "The First Grader". CNET Networks. Metacritic. Retrieved 2015-12-15.
- "The First Grader (2010)". IGN Entertainment. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-12-15.