Tag: Oliver Musila Litondo

The First Grader

May 6th, 2011 — 6:48am


The First Grader-sp We take for granted that everyone in this country is entitled to an education. We especially can appreciate it when we see it through the eyes of eager children trying to learn the their ABCs in a dusty one room class room in Kenya where the government has decreed, for the first time, the right of everyone to be educated. We are taken to a new level of appreciation when we see it from the point of view of an 85 year old man Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge (Oliver Musila Litondo) who is determined to join this class and get the education he never had and learn to read. This is based a true story of a   man who became a national hero in Kenya and a symbol of the universal desire for education as his quest ultimately brought the real Maruge from his country village to address the United Nations. However important this theme may be, there also was another story going on here. This proud man had been part of Kikuyu tribe, which produced the Mau-Mau rebellion, which ultimately led to the Kenyan independence from British colonial rule. He demands and gets the respect as others realize that he had been one of freedom fighters who took a sacred oath to return the land controlled by the British back to the native people. As a young man he endured torture and witnessed the death of his wife and children at the hands of the British who demanded that he give up his oath of resistance. The movie flashes back from the present day of this old man trying to learn to read to when he was resisting the powerful British. This is a poignant and dramatic story about a piece of history that most of us do not know much about. It is based on screenplay by Ann Peacock but carried forth and molded by director Justin Chadwick. It is all the more remarkable because it paints an extremely negative picture of colonial Britain by this British Director with the initial support of the BBC, which took the project into development. The school children and most of the characters were not professional actors but all real life Kenyan people. This included the children and their school, which was quite genuine. The exception was Naomie Harris an outstanding English screen actress who had a major role-playing Jane Obinchu the schoolteacher who believed Maruge deserved the opportunity to learn to read. The performance by Litondo as Maruge is totally believable, as he seems to embody this “Mandelaisk” persona. Litondo is a native Kenyan who used to be a news anchor with no previous acting experience.  Harris, Chadwick and their entire crew spent several weeks in Kenya working with locals and preparing to shoot this movie there. The result is an extremely, sensitive effective and emotional film. A middle school teacher in our audience mentioned how she was inspired to go back into her classroom and we all could feel the awe and the thirst for learning that young people and a deprived older man might feel. We also have had our interest peaked to learn more about this very interesting and complicated piece of African history about which this story only scratched the surface. It is a movie that should not be missed. (2011)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

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