The First Grader

(2010)

Genres: Biography, Drama

Review: The First Grader

Transcript for Review: The First Grader

IGNATIY:
Well, our next movie is a new film produced by National Geographic. It’s called THE FIRST GRADER, and it’s a fact-based story about Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge. He's an uneducated 84-year old man in rural Kenya who enrolled in a local elementary school under a law that granted free public education to all Kenyans.

/clip 1

The staff of the school are at first ambivalent towards Maruge, but Jane, a teacher, comes to his defense after learning about his troubled past.

/clip 5

Even after Maruge is admitted to the school, he must continue fighting for his right to an education.

/clip 4 / “Chairman scene”

THE FIRST GRADER is meant to be inspirational, but I found it patronizing not only toward its viewers, but toward the characters as well. No one, not even Maruge, seems like a human being. You’d think that nobody lives or loves on the whole continent of Africa; it’s like it exists only to show Americans and Europeans what it’s like to overcome adversity. The only thing this film has inspired me to do is give it thumbs down, Christy.

CHRISTY:
I am thumbs up, not hugely, enthusiastically so. I like Naomie Harris in it very well as the teacher who agrees to teach Maruge. Um, she has to be feisty and determined, but I think she underplays some of the lines that you say are so clunky and heavy-handed. She’s likable and strong and not too over the top and too cloying. And you disagree I realize; I’m looking at your face right now. You don’t agree at all.

IGNATIY: I, well, yeah but all of this is just, you’re just circling the fact that this movie is just trying to turn Kenya into a Successories poster.

CHRISTY:
Commitment. Dedication. No, here’s why it’s not one of those though. Because of the way it is shot, this is one contrast…

IGNATIY:
Oh, no it is because of the way it is shot. Okay, okay.

CHRISTY:
No, no it is totally stripped down. It’s, it’s very inspirational material, right? It’s really feel good. You thought it was heavy-handed and cloying and whatever, but the way it is shot and the scenes of violence, which are quite harrowing. When you go flashback to what happened to Maruge here and even what happens in their everyday lives now, it’s shot in such stripped down kind of intimate way that that offsets some of the feel goodery, gooeyness, and I like that contrast.

IGNATIY:
No, it seems like every moment is calculated to gives us this sense of intimacy like we’re really there. I mean…

CHRISTY:
But it’s not like lush and beautiful by any means.

IGNATIY:
Well, well this is not a Kenyan film. It is, it is made almost entirely by English people.

CHRISTY:
Okay.

IGNATIY:
You know that’s the cinematographer, you know the producers, the director.

CHRISTY:
It’s a good story!

IGNATIY:
It’s like the Westerners idea of what African cinema should be like.

CHRISTY:
It’s a story worth seeing.

IGNATIY:
It should be all dancing like and singing and

CHRISTY:
It’s a story worth seeing. It is, it is story worth seeing.

IGNATIY:
Oh.

CHRISTY:
It’s a good story, okay.

IGNATIY:
It’s not worth seeing.