Chances are, you’re already familiar with Malala Yousafszai, the young activist and Nobel laureate who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan. Instead, Guggenheim likens Ziauddin to Malala and emphasizes the symbolic meaning of her name, which derives from that of an Afghan folk hero.
Malala Yousafzai is certainly a remarkable individual, and Davis Guggenheim’s documentary profile does a fine job explaining the events that catapulted the Pakistani teenager to the world stage. The Afghani fable of a young woman who raised her voice to inspire her people is Malala’s namesake. The basic story is compelling: When the Taliban took over Malala’s village in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, books and videos were burned, and girls were forbidden any education except religious education. “Nearly like she was closing her eyes at night and remembering it”.
Her father Ziauddin co-authored her global best-seller, “I Am Malala“, and has said, “We’re one soul in two bodies”.
The second focuses on the attack and the conditions and actions leading up to it, but this material is presented in reverse chronological order.
In this respect, the reverse storytelling works: We feel affection for Malala and understand her backstory by the time we see her speaking out for girls’ education.
Guggenheim, renowned director of “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for ‘Superman, ‘” followed Malala and her family for 18 months, piecing together how such an ordinary girl came to be a worldwide figurehead of a major human rights issue. But mostly – and this is not a criticism of Malala – the teenager comes across as “on message”, conscious of her public mission and circumspect in her responses. This uprooting of a loving family is one of the prices Malala and her father paid for their outspokenness. He Named Me Malala may encourage viewers to see Malala as a preternaturally gifted leader, but it doesn’t get at what’s driven her to become a symbol for change. These final scenes, which also incorporate Malala’s memorable address to the United Nations, are heartrending, though Thomas Newman’s score is a bit over-emphatic.
“He Named Me Malala“, a Fox Searchlight release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats”.