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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is based on the true story of William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a 13-year-old boy living in a small village in Malawi, Africa, who created a device that would restore the land and save his people after flooding ruined their grain fields. Expect sad moments, including some significant deaths. There are also a few violent sequences: Government officials beat a village chieftain, and thieves invade a home, threatening two women. A sprinkling of curse words are heard, including "damn," "hell," "bulls--t." The movie's source material is Kamkwamba's same-named book. Both English and Chewa (subtitled) are spoken in the film, which has clear, strong themes of perseverance, courage, curiosity, and integrity.
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What's the story?
A neglectful national government and some villagers' bad decision-making contribute to the widespread starvation descending upon William Kamkwamba's (Maxwell Simba) village after devastating flooding in THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND. William's parents, Tyrell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Agnes (Aissa Maiga), determined to fund their children's education, simply cannot come up with the money for their son's school in this time of hardship. But William is a gifted student, intrigued by electronics and making things work. Of special interest to him are wind turbines, which his inventive mind believes might be able to provide enough electricity to water the now-barren land. As long shots go, a 13-year-old boy with almost no resources defies all odds. But William, with a bit of deception and a little help, gets access to an old American textbook that just may provide the technology he needs. When William asks his dad to make an unusual sacrifice for the project, the boy's relentless prodding strains their usually-solid relationship. The family's foundation is sorely tested, and hope is in short supply.
Is it any good?
In addition to William's inspiring story, this film presents an unforgettable portrait of village life in Africa, advancing awareness of the universality of family relationships and human struggles. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Chiwetel Ejiofor's first writing-directing effort, could not be more impressive. The entire production -- photography, production design, editing, story structure, music -- is stellar. Each performance he elicits is nuanced and alive with the spirit of the story being told. And, while it's likely that Ejiofor has taken some license with the events, the overall effect is enlightening, relatable, and very gratifying. Highly recommended for families to share.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how movies set in other countries and/or time periods like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind have special value for young viewers. Were you familiar with Malawi before you saw this film? How did The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind change any earlier attitudes or knowledge you had about the country or the continent of Africa? What surprised you?
When a movie is "based upon" a book or other source material, how much do you think is authentic? Are you aware that some story elements are altered or added to help provide conflict? Screenwriters also need to create the dialogue, since there's most likely no record (other than in court proceedings) of what was actually said. Did seeing The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind motivate you to read William's book?
Find Malawi on a world map. Where would you go to find out how the country has fared since William mounted the turbine? Use your research tools to find out what happened to William Kamkwamba.
- On DVD or streaming: March 1, 2019
- Cast: Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aissa Maiga
- Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: STEM, Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 28, 2021
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