He Named Me Malala Review
On the 9th of October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban. She was targeted because of her activism for education, particularly girls’ education, in her native Swat Valley in Pakistan. Malala would survive and go on to bring her activism to the world stage; speaking out against all educational injustices, and then going on to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Here in He Named Me Malala, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim paints a picture of this girl who has become a figure for freedom in her own personal battlefield, with books and words as her weapons.
The film opens with the story of Malala of Maiwand, a poet who stood up in battle to lead against English forces, but lost her life in the process. It is this Malala that Malala Yousafzai was named after by her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, and it is something that resonates through her life and in turn through the film. Malala made the decision to stand for something, but this is not without consequences. As well as nearly losing her life, she and her family are in a kind of exile, unable to return to Pakistan due to the tide of death threats against her and her father. Malala speaks very longingly of her home town and expresses her desire to see her childhood house once more, but also accepts the changes that have happened to her life. Following her teacher father into advocating for education, Malala makes it clear that whilst he gave her freedom by never limiting her curiosity for knowledge, she is the one who made the decision to fight for the right to education, something that we can take for granted.
Yet despite the depth and range of the work that Malala has been doing in the world since her recovery (she opened a school for Syrian refugees on her 18th birthday) Guggenheim makes sure that we see the ordinary within the extraordinary. He shows Malala with her brothers, playing and irritating each other like any siblings. She shows off her bedroom and bookshelves, including a copy of her book, which was the basis of the film, signed by herself to herself. She goes to school and has trouble in certain lessons, much to her bashful embarrassment. She is a normal girl, a thing that she is very insistent on being, and she is likeable, sweet, and with a strong sense of faith and forgiveness.
Guggenheim also makes us aware of the wider world and context for Malala’s experience. News footage and recordings provide us with a visual and audio collage of situation in Pakistan. Alongside this for the moments that cannot so easily be recreated, the stories of Malala and her family’s lives and experiences, are beautiful flowing animated sequences that fit naturally into the film and serve to break up a lot of the interview segments.
Overall I found He Named Me Malala to be an uplifting and inspiring experience. The strength of this documentary lies in its tone, and it is one that matches its subject; bold, clear, and strong with lightness and joy at the centre which refuses to back down.