At the age of fifteen, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban, for daring to fight for women’s education. Overcoming incredible odds to survive, she became a media sensation when she wrote about her fight in a book titled I Am Malala. An incredible story of an incredible young lady, it was a mere matter of time until a documentary was made, though perhaps surprising that it would be pushed to the big screen.
He Named Me Malala is one of the most engaging documentaries of recent times. While fundamentally a depiction of Malala’s actions and her own personality, director Davis Guggenheim does not omit to portray the society from which she came, and the societal ills against which she fought. On this level, the most notable message this angle contains is that many of those living under the thumb of the Taliban, see those extremists as antagonists and abhorrent to the Muslim religion, despite their claiming to be the “true” Muslims. The vile nature of these extremists is shown, through the mouths of several Muslim detractors, in its full vehement truth. Ultimately, we as an audience are given a glimpse into the abhorrent dictatorship that those in the Middle East are forced to live under.
Likewise, a courageous and well-spoken young lady, Guggenheim takes an obviously careful note of the person that stands before him. The result of this careful consideration is an honest and, consequently, awe inspiring portrayal of Malala. Not because one could consider her a social pioneer or laud her receipt of the Nobel Prize aged only seventeen, but because she refuses to bask in the media’s glorification and sees herself merely as a daughter t her parents and a sister to her brothers. Despite her courage in standing up against those who shot her in the head, she claims she is an ordinary girl, who was pushed to doing extraordinary things. Albeit a disservice to the stand she took, and continues to take, throughout the film this remains one of the most notable and inspiring traits of Malala Yousafzai. This humble young lady, combined with her powerful diction and courage, beautifully shows why she quickly rose to becoming one of the most well-known ambassadors of any country in the modern day.
This portrayal of Malala is aided by the director’s decision to include animation with particular stories. The animated segments intentionally break from the familial tone of the film (with a tone one would expect in a biblical animation) in order to introduce a certain, and inevitable, level of heroism to the story of Malala. However, these segments rarely involve Malala herself, but often detract from Malala in order to imply that her heroic acts came from her lineage and her father’s decision to give her such an implicational name. These animated overtones allow the filtration of Malala’s heroism without implicating the woman we see on-screen. Even when telling the story of Malala’s decision to write her groundbreaking book, we are left with an animated image of a heroic girl, which somehow separates itself from the humble and sweet young lady that is Malala. Of course, this is intentional. Just as she does with the mention of not talking about her sufferings, she insists on shooing away any talk of her successes. What she does not seem to be aware of, however, is that this only heightens the impact of her words when she does speak. An incredibly quotable film, at many times in its hour and a half, she makes statements that can bring a tear or inspire.
The ultimate message of He Named Me Malala is one of humility and the importance of family. While insisting that she did what she did out of her own momentum, Malala beautifully explains that she got her strength from her family. And while her idea that anybody in her circumstances could do what she did is arguably incorrect, we are left with the stark reality that she’s right when she says, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.
To put it simply, He Named Me Malala is a film that every person in this world should watch. As any good documentary should do, it powerfully alters one’s perspective on the world. But unlike many, what Malala has to teach will resound for a very long time to come.