The docu-film begins brilliantly, awash with a beautifully hand-painted, animated sequence that illustrates the story of another Malala; the wartime warrior and martyr who stood atop the mountain pleading for her people to stand their ground and fight for their right to live in peace. She was shot and killed for her efforts. How remarkable is it then that this story parallels the story of Malala Yousafzai who was named after this famous martyr, maimed for her efforts.
At one point in the film Malala remarks that “it was her father who gave her the name, but it was not he who made her Malala”. Then with this in mind the film expertly dissects what being Malala really means.
The brutal image of war is expounded throughout the film, paralleling the struggle of millions of Islamic women who are banned from basic educational rights, from the ongoing Syrian Crisis in which 300 million people have been displaced, many children who go without education, or the Nigerian ‘Stolen Schoolgirls’. The age old saying ‘what about the children’ has never rung so true.
However, these parallels are in no way an attempt to make comparisons measurable. Instead it highlights the many injustices and universality of suffering by both men and women the world over. It should also be noted that there is no gender bias in the film despite the keen focus on women’s rights to education and free speech.
More then anything, the film has the remarkable ability to show just how normal and self-less Malala remains despite the massive strife and losses she has suffered in her short 16 years on this planet. The 2014 Nobel Peace Price Winner and award-winning activist remains very humble, still having to juggle the idea of being thrust into a new culture while longing for her old one, the prospect of boyfriends (of which Roger Federer and Brad Pitt top the list), the countless pieces of homework she is given on a weekly basis and of course her troublesome two little brothers causing her endless amounts of stress, whist at the same time trying to balance her activist work.
With the commentary of her younger brothers providing much in the way of comedy in the film’s earlier sequences, it is perhaps her close personal relationship with her father that remains magical throughout as it becomes obviously clear that not only is her father a forward thinking man, it is also his sensibilities that have allowed Malala to recover and flourish so remarkably from her horrific injuries.
“Education gives you the power to question and become independent.”
The film picks up in 2007. The family Yousafzai has permanently relocated to Birmingham but long for their old life. Unable to return to Mingora, Swat Valley as the Taliban has threatened to again attempt to take Malala’s life, she is in many ways “separate from the world”.
Her words are now seen as an attack on Islam by Taliban leaders now controlling the region from which she originates. Sympathisers belittle all that Malala has done, presenting her as a caricature, her words farcical and without positive impact on their religion. They argue that she has abandoned Pakistan. And what a saddening thought this is from the people who she is desperately trying to help. Her comments about the evil ideology of a few men who are ruining the religion here ring true.
But Malala has never been angry. Not for the evils her gender or she personally has suffered. Now deaf in one ear and her left side partially paralyzed, she refuses to talk about her suffering, imbuing the film with such an air of honesty that it brings a tear to the eye.
Guggenheim has interwoven family photos and video footage of a younger Malala as audiences witness the fiery spirit that we have come to know so well. Perhaps here Guggenheim makes his biggest statement; the power of language and of the few who yield it to cause universal change. Much like her father who still believes that the idea of staying quiet was more detrimental than the bullets and acts of violence so freely spread the world over, perhaps Malala’s continued health is the clearest example of the existence of god as it was by faith alone that Malala survived her injuries.
He Named Me Malala can be read as so many things: educational, cautionary and thought provoking, but more than anything else it is an example of how “the truth has to come and falsehood has to die.”
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark