How will hardcore birthers (I’m looking in your direction Orly Taitz, though wincing to do so) read dark and sinister intent into the uplifting true story of The First Grader, given that it’s set in Kenya, contains the words “birth certificate” and even, in its closing, winkingly evokes the possibility of someone like Barack Obama, whose ancestors call the country home, rising to the presidency of the United States? Who knows, though I’m sure it may spawn a particularly warped conspiracy theory on some Internet message board somewhere. For the sane among us, however, the good news is that this solidly put together adult-education drama will be safely off the radars of most lunatic-fringe dwellers, arriving as it does in a low-key theatrical release from National Geographic Entertainment.
Despite its exotic setting, The First Grader, directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), is not too far out-of-field for American arthouse audiences — it’s chiefly a drama of heartening, make-do cooperation and uplift, a movie about not just the illumination of education, but the power to bestow dignity that it also possesses. Naomie Harris and Oliver Litondo (above) each deliver engaging, full-bodied performances, and Rob Hardy’s cinematography makes wonderful use of existent light and the natural Kenyan landscapes, creating a compelling physical tableau against which the human drama can more realistically unfold. The true story of The First Grader serves as an important reminder that education does not come by way of a piece of paper, nor is it a fixed-point destination. Instead, it’s a lifelong journey. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (National Geographic Entertainment, PG-13, 103 minutes)