Wangari Maathai immortalized by Indy film ‘Taking Root’

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai is an amazingly autobiographical film which is reviewed below and was screened at the Alliance Francaise’s Festival CulturElles, commemorating not only Wangari but International Women’s Day, March 8th as well. 

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Wangari Maathai was alive, well and already destined for immortality before she helped Lisa Merton and Alan Daker make her autobiographical documentary film, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai in 2008.
She had already made history and broken so many records for women’s achievements that her name was world renowned. She didn’t need a movie to make her famous!
She had been the first female doctorate from East Africa, the founder of the award-winning Greenbelt Movement which had inspired tree planting among rural women and men not just in Kenya but throughout Africa and the rest of the world. And she was the first African woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.
So having a film made about her life was not anything unusual for a woman who had rubbed shoulders with monarchs and prime ministers as well as with rural peasants and hard hitting pressmen and MPs.
Yet we can be so grateful to Merton and Dater for taking on the project of making Wangari’s movie because who could have foreseen that she would leave us while she was still in her prime. She was 71 when she died, the chemotherapy she’d endured for many months having failed to heal her of the ovarian cancer that ate away at her inner parts.
But 71 was 71 years young for this woman who had been born into a Kenya that was yet to become polluted with toxic fumes and processed foods filled with carcinogenic chemicals. Wangari’s healthy early upbringing and education feature significantly in Taking Root, revealing a good deal about how this great woman came to become who she did.

The stark contrast between what she experienced as a child in Nyeri and what she found upon her return from scholarly studies in the United States (having been one of the few women who were part of the historic Airlift of Kenyan students to the US in 1960) is one of the things that inspired her to take up the monumental challenge of reforesting her homeland by starting the Greenbelt Movement.
The film brings out the way she remained grounded and humble while working closely with rural women, first as the
Chair of the National Council of Women of Kenya, then as the founder mother of the Greenbelt Movement. But it also shows how she was bound to become a ‘freedom fighter’ and human rights advocate, having grown up in the space where the founder of the ‘Mau Mau’ Land and Freedom Army, Dedan Kimathi had also come from.
Wangari’s radicalism is rarely emphasized when we refer to her as a former university lecturer, Member of Parliament, Assistant Minister and Nobel Laureate. But Taking Root reveals this side of her, the side that fought the former Kenya President Daniel arap Moi and saved Uhuru Park, Kenya’s correlative to New York City’s Central Park, for posterity. It’s also the side that stood with the mothers of political detainees at the tipping point when Moi realized he had to relent and open up the government to multiparty democracy, the mothers’ and Wangari’s influence having proved to be too powerful even for him.
Taking Root allows Wangari to tell her own story. But it also lets others who were close to her through the years give eye witness accounts of this great women’s influence on their lives and the lives men and women all over the world.
Whether you knew Wangari well or not, you will come away from Taking Root knowing she still lives in all the seeds she helped to plant both in Mother Earth and in a myriad of individuals’ lives.


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