HE NAMED ME MALALA (United Arab Emirates | USA/PG/88mins)
Directed by Davis Guggenheim.
THE PLOT: “There is a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up”. So says Malala Yousafzai who, in October 2012, at the age of 15, was shot in the head on a schoolbus, for daring to speak publicly about the rights for young women to be educated, under Taliban rule in her native Pakistan. The world watched as Malala recovered from her injuries, and didn’t give up her crusade. For the first time, Malala gets to tell her story on screen, and audiences get a peek behind the famous face, into her every day life.
THE VERDICT: The first thing that strikes you on watching He Named Me Malala, is just how remarkable this young woman is; not only was she shot in the head and recovered, but she has no problem talking to world leaders about issues she is familiar with, with a unique insight. Ask her to talk about boys, or the possibility of asking someone on a date however, and you are reminded just how young Malala Yousafzai really is, and what an incredible life she has led.
The film begins by explaining its title – Malala was named after a teenage girl named Malalai who, according to legend, encouraged the Afghan army not to give up in their fight against British troops in the 1880 Battle of Maiwand – which goes a long way to pointing out the similarities between Malala and her namesake. This is a subject that comes up time and again and, although many in Pakistan – where Malala’s book is banned – believe that she is a character, or someone who mindlessly repeats the words of her father, the film goes a long way to dissuade audiences from that notion, and stress that everything Malala has done in her young life was her choice.
From here, the film shines a light on the new life that Malala and her family find themselves living; from adjusting to life in the Western world, the effect that taking time off school has on Malala’s grades and her relationship with her parents and brothers. What emerges is a picture of a startlingly ordinary young woman who squabbles with her brothers and struggles to make friends in an unfamiliar world, who is also a world figure, beautifully eloquent and engaging.
Director Davis Guggenheim – who won an Oscar for 2007’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – carefully balances the film to give a greater insight into the injustices that Malala speaks out about, her life as a public figure and her personal life with her family. The tales of the past are told through animated sequences that are beautifully done, with words being shown as light, and this is mixed with documentary and newsreel footage of Malala in her various roles as activist, sister and daughter. There is the feel, from time to time, that He Named Me Malala is a film aimed at teenagers to try and get them interested in activism, but Malala is such a fascinating person, this is hardly an issue.
In all, ‘He Named Me Malala’ is a look behind the scenes of one of the most famous activists of today, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a young woman who could not be silenced with a bullet. The film is carefully constructed to give background to the public face of Malala, and does so incredibly well.
Review by Brogen Hayes

He Named Me Malala
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Carefully constructed
  • filmbuff2011

    On 9th October 2012, 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the restrictive, oppressive Taliban for speaking out and daring to suggest that every girl has a right to an education. Fortunately for her, her family and the rest of the world, they failed to kill her. Instead, she gradually recovered and her voice only grew stronger. Davis Guggenheim’s quietly moving documentary film He Named Me Malala seeks to understand more about this simple, everyday teenager but who is also growing into a complex young activist. As we find out early on in the film, Malala is named after a young girl who spoke out and encouraged her tribe to stand up and fight against invading forces. That girl was shot and killed, an eerie parallel that thankfully wasn’t replicated. Now living in Birmingham with her devoted father Ziauddin, her mother and her two cheeky but cute younger brothers, Malala struggles to understand English culture and how her school test results have gone down, even though she’s doing well. She relates the story of her town in Swat Valley and how it became over-run with the Taliban. The local Mullah broadcasted propaganda daily to the whole town and made sure that education was not a priority for girls. The Taliban blew up schools and persecuted and even killed anyone who didn’t agree with their extremist beliefs. Ziauddin set up his own school and realised the basic, absolutely essential value of education. It is, after all, a fundamental human right under Article 26 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fact that the Taliban tried to kill Malala speaks volumes about how scared these violent men were of a little girl. Through occasional, beautifully illustrated, sequences, Guggenheim puts pictures to Malala’s words, about how Ziauddin encouraged her but didn’t push her into the limelight. She certainly seems comfortable under the gaze of a camera, in the company of the UN, world leaders and even Bono. Yet, what really comes through is how pleasantly grounded and real she is. She wouldn’t dream of asking a boy out on a date, yet giggles at photos of Roger Federer and Brad Pitt (watch out Angie!). She is not one voice, but many. An advocate for all the oppressed young girls out there who deserve an education. Guggenheim, who made An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting For Superman (which was about the US education system) doesn’t try to over-complicate things by talking about the whys and why-nots of the Taliban and what happened. He Named Me Malala is a lot like the title character herself – simple, straightforward, well-spoken, direct and leaves you thinking as you leave the cinema. A very fine film, well worth seeking out. ****