He Named Me Malala Review


Malala Yousafzi was an ordinary girl in rural Pakistan who wanted to get an education. For her troubles, she was shot in the head by the Taliban. 15 years old. Because she wanted to go to school.

There will be some who say He Named Me Malala, the documentary chronicling Malala’s life, trauma, and work to bring education to girls worldwide is amateurish and not worthy of its subject. They will have wildly missed the point. He Named Me Malala transcends traditional criticism. Its goal is to share a story that might help change the world for the better. I think it can accomplish that. Its faults, as such, are so easily forgiven.

The film is directed by Davis Guggenheim of An Inconvienent Truth and Waiting for “Superman” fame. It jumps back and forth between Malala’s past — animated in the film for lack of footage — and her present, which sees her visit multiple continents, using her profile to promote her message and help disadvantaged young girls and their families. That sounds exhaustive, and the film is to a certain extent, but He Named Me Malala is less the story of an innocent girl who stood up to the Taliban and was shot than it is the story of what drives the activist to stay standing.

The film, therefore, has two obvious focii. One is education, which is interesting to think about in the context of Guggenheim’s filmography. An Inconvenient Truth was about education in a somewhat obtuse way. Obviously, its main goal was to convey to its audience the nature and scope of the climate change threat in a way that hasn’t been done previously. It’s expressed in the form of a simple lecture — education in its most explicit form.

Meanwhile, Waiting for “Superman” chronicles the flawed nature of the education system in America. I’m sure Malala and other education activists would do anything to implement something as exhaustive as the American system in places like Kenya and Syria, warts and all. Still, Guggenheim’s plea in that film came from a very personal place, and it’s interesting to see him mostly remove himself from the proceedings for the Malala doc.

Her message is one of equal rights. There’s no reason women shouldn’t have the same opportunities as a man, and that all starts in the classroom. Unfortunately, in places like Pakistan and Nigeria, bombs are dropping on schools, and children are being kidnapped by terrorists. There’s no doubt this film will be seen by more young men and women in Western schools than in places that don’t have schools at all, but that doesn’t take at all away from the power of seeing Malala unassumingly and uncertainly command a room of girls who cling to her every word.

The film’s other major focus is Malala’s relationship with her father, Ziauddin. The son of a Pakistani activist and an activist himself, he carries a lot of guilt on his face and in every word about what happened to Malala. She, however, is her father’s daughter. She realizes that staying silent is complicit to supporting the other side. Despite the attack on her life, she marches on, and Ziauddin is at her side, despite obvious reservations. He helped give her a voice. He helped shape the message. And now, he can only look on as his daughter makes enemies of some bad people. But with the bad comes good: the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, among many other distinctions and less quantifiable, more humane rewards.

From a filmmaking perspective, Guggenheim’s work is nothing memorable, but again, that’s not really the point here. His one flourish is the use of lovely animation to depict the scenes in Malala’s life when she was an ordinary girl. Of course, she insists she still is an ordinary girl. That sounds nice, but she must know it isn’t true. Ordinary girls don’t have documentaries made about them — extraordinary ones do, and Malala Yousafzai is extraordinary. Her documentary isn’t, but it’s perfectly informative, engaging, moving, entertaining, and most importantly, um, important.

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One Response to He Named Me Malala Review

  1. Pingback: Reviews: He Named Me Malala (2015) | Online Film Critics Society

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