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He Named Me Malala

He Named Me Malala: Poignant Documentary Only Touches the Surface

  • Malala Yousafzai
  • Documentary
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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He Named Me Malala: Poignant Documentary Only Touches the Surface

Despite its seeming lack of depth and focus, He Named Me Malala – a documentary centred on the brave and inspirational Pakistani activist and the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai – is still a relatively moving and a touching look into the life of a young woman whose tragedy has turned her into one of the most important teenagers of our world today.

Directed by the Oscar-winning director, Davis Guggenheim – see Inconvenient Truth – the movie tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, who as everyone probably already knows,  was shot three times – including once in the forehead – by a Taliban gunman back in October of 2012, when she was only fifteen years of age.  With an attempt to silence her for advocating the importance of educating girls, Malala’s remarkable survival and recovery – after having spent a time in a coma in the hospital in the U.K – only diminished their atrocious and murderous efforts which ended up propelling the young teenager onto a global platform promoting education and peace.

Exploring her childhood in Swat Valley, Northern Pakistan – a place which Malala and her family had to flee– the documentary’s foundation is the relationship between Malala and her activist-teacher father, Ziauddin,who has named her after Afghan folk heroine, Malalai of Maiwand, who led the Pashtun fighters against the British and was shot and killed in the process. Malala’s soon became a worldwide campaigner for educating girls and women.

Spending time with Malala and her family, in a fly-on-the-wall setup, provide the film’s most endearing moments, especially when her two younger brothers, Kushai and Atal – tease their oldest sister about her crush on tennis legend, Roger Federer. Her relationship with her father is another part that portrays a similar sentiment, though Guggenheim doesn’t dig deeper much deeper. Assembling a variety of footage and interviews, Guggenheim interlaces the story threads with a dreamy – albeit repetitive – animated sequence telling Malala’s story in a shuffled non-chronological manner.

Despite’s its perceived shortcoming, He Named Me Malala is still a powerful documentary that offers us a glimpse – but not a look – into the life of one extraordinary young lady. The problem is that it feels like we’ve learnt nothing new. This is not a great film; but it is a significant film about a great subject. Essentially, Guggenheim fails to do justice to his subject matter.

Like This? Try

Saving Face (2012), The Hunting Ground (2015), Buffalo Girls (2012)

360 Tip

The name Malala is a variant of Malalai, which means "sad, grieved" in Pashto.

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