Malala Yousafzai is undoubtedly an incredible person; she has shown immense courage in the face of a horrifying situation and has brought international attention to the shameful state of girls’ education around the world. He Named Me Malala examines Malala’s story and particularly her relationship with her father, who had also campaigned against the Taliban in Pakistan prior to the attack on Malala. The film is certainly valuable in bringing some clarity to Malala’s story; with all the publicity and focus on her attack by the Taliban, it’s easy to overlook how much she had campaigned for girls’ rights to education before the shooting took place.
Despite glimpses into her home life: play-fighting with her brothers, playing cards with her family, giggling over celebrities that she likes, there is not a lot of insight into Malala’s deeper feelings. An interviewer notes that Malala doesn’t like to talk about her struggles, at which point Malala smiles, shrugs and moves on. There are no further attempts to push further into how Malala really feels about her life now: being forced from her native country, having the world’s spotlight on her, the threat of the Taliban constantly hanging over her and her family.
It’s understandable why the interviewers don’t push her: she’s very young and of course one wants to be respectful, but the end product is a film with a message which remains fairly light. At times He Named Me Malala feels like a two-hour advert for Malala’s foundation and for her cause, and perhaps that was director Davis Guggenheim’s intention. But it barely touches on the more complicated topics in Malala’s story; how she personally deals with her new life, or how many Pakistanis have denounced her progressive attitudes.
The film is very inspiring; it’s hard to listen to Malala speak and not be inspired. But the film itself didn’t add a huge amount – it’s Malala who is electric to watch, and unfortunately much of her own magnetism and charisma is dampened by an overuse of stock footage and the director’s refusal to delve into anything too provocative.
Image: Southbank centre; Flickr.com