Kenya’s Litondo beats top US actors to bag award


George Clooney’s latest film, The Descendants, has been described by critics as the “best acting of 2012” and has won many prestigious awards, but when he came up against Kenya’s Oliver Litondo for the best actor award at this year’s Movie for Grownups, he could only play second fiddle, together with Hollywood legends Mel Gibson, Kevin Spacey and English actor and filmmaker Gary Oldman. While Clooney’s film did bag the best movie award, the night belonged to Litondo, who received a standing ovation for his portrayal of another great Kenyan, Kimani Maruge, in the film The First Grader.


“Oliver Litondo, a longtime Kenyan TV newscaster who sometimes dabbles in acting, breaks your heart and sends it soaring in the true story of Kimani Maruge, an 84-year-old man who enrolled in a remote Kenyan elementary school so he could learn to read. From his tentative first moments at his small desk to his haunted eyes as he recalls his family’s murder, Litondo’s Maruge is a man who won’t give up on life, even when it has seemingly given up on him,” read a statement from the awards website.

It has been a good year for Litondo who, since acting in the First Grader, which, according to the LA Times, cost $10 million (Sh830 million) to shoot, has been bagging awards left, right and center. While the film has had little or no effect in Kenya, it looks like the rest of the world are in awe of the story of the world’s oldest primary school pupil.

Litondo also stands a chance at impressing and upsetting the Hollywood elite when he hopes to walk away a winner in one if not all of the five nominations he received for the 43rd NAACP Image Awards.

The awards are a premier event celebrating the outstanding achievements and performances of black people in the arts (television, recording, literature, motion picture and writing & directing), as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavours.

The First Grader received five nods: Outstanding Motion Picture, Outstanding Actor (Oliver Litondo), Best Independent Motion Picture, Writing in a Motion Picture (Ann Peacock) and World Music Album (Alex Heffes).

The movie’s producer David Thompson commented in the film’s website; “I am pleased with the accolades that The First Grader continues to receive around the world. The film, which has the simple message that one is never too old to learn, is truly brilliant and we are happy that it has touched audiences internationally.”

Executive Producer, Anant Singh also commented, “We are thrilled with the five NAACP Image Award nominations. Justin Chadwick did a fantastic job crafting an excellent film and Oliver’s performance in the film was really powerful and his nomination for the Outstanding Actor is well deserved. We are also delighted with the nomination for the musical talents of Alex Heffes and writer, Ann Peacock, whose South African roots gave the film an air of African authenticity.”

Commenting on the nominations, producer Richard Harding added, “It is a huge honour for The First Grader to be recognised by an organisation as prestigious as the NAACP. The nominations are a testament to the fantastic team we assembled, each of whom have contributed to its success.” The website also states that the song “Keep On Walking” was short-listed by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for the Original Song category of the 84th Academy Awards.

“The song was composed by Alex Heffes who won the Discovery of the Year prize for his work on The First Grader at the 2011 World Soundtrack Awards at the 38th Ghent International Film Festival in October.”

The First Grader was shot in Kenya and is directed by Justin Chadwick and stars Naomie Harris and Oliver Litondo, Vusi Kunene, Tony Kgoroge and Israel Makoe. It was written by South African born Emmy award winner Ann Peacock.

The movie has won many awards like Durban International Film Festival (Audience Award – Feature Film), Doha Tribeca Film Festival (Audience Prize for Best Film), Toronto Film Festival (Audience Prize runner-up) and Nashville International Film Festival (Audience Choice Award).



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