Movie Review: The First Grader

An 84-year-old Kenyan former freedom fighter is illiterate. When the government announces that there will be free school for all, he shows up at the gates every day in an effort to learn to read.

This sets off a sequence of events he and his teacher would not have anticipated.

This plays in a time of “post-Obama” Kenya. Politics and society in modern-day Kenya are permeated by tribal beliefs and riddled with corruption and bureaucracy. This movie shows excellent scenery of Africa and pictures of how people live in “modern” Africa.

Flashbacks through traumatic memories of the protagonist to terrible unrest in the 1960s, when the British tried to clamp down on the freedom movement in Kenya through an iron fist, provide stark contrast. There is brutal imagery of innocent women and children slain to “punish” the rebels in an effort to make them confess to their “crimes” of dissent with the colonial government and rule. This, ironically, happened much after the 1940s, when the British were touting their disdain for government brutality in response to the Nazi regime, famously making sure that on the Isle of Man, where prisoners of war were held, nothing would resemble concentration camps and human rights, even of enemy prisoners, were inviolate. Not in Africa 20 years later, it seems.

The First Grader is a movie that made me see a world I knew little about and the colors of Africa enticed me.

Rating: ** 1/2

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