He Named Me Malala

October 9th, 2015




AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS

At the age of 15, I was going to St. Patrick’s high school, I was playing sports, and I was enjoying my carefree, youthful days with friends on the weekends. When Malala Yousafzai was 15, she was on a school bus on her way home from class when a gunman asked for her by name, pointed a pistol at her, and fired three shots. One bullet hit the left side of her forehead, travelled under her skin through the length of her face, and then went into her shoulder.

There is no comparison for the amount of courage that this young woman has inside of her. There is no comparison for the life of fear that Malala, and millions of other Pakistani women, must live every day, wondering whether they will be shot or murdered simply because they want to learn, because they want to read and write like you and me. Malala Yousafzai has taken her traumatic event and turned it into a bellowing voice for women. She lives in London, England, with her family. She wrote a book, I Am Malala, which inspired the film, and recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a young woman with the will to survive and the courage to face her oppressors, but we don’t quite get to know more than that here.

He Named Me Malala is directed by Davis Guggenheim, the Academy Award-winning director of several controversial documentaries. With An Inconvenient Truth, he woke up the public on the facts of global warming. In Waiting for ‘Superman’, Guggenheim shined a light on the American public school system and its countless problems. Compared to these, Malala lacks a hard-hitting edge. He interjects the narrative with beautiful, but off putting animated reenactments of the stories Malala tells. We see interviews with her brothers, mother and father, but when Guggenheim shows candid moments, whether it be when Malala displays her attraction for boys or her responses to questions on how people in her native country see her as more of a symbol for America than for Pakistan, the payoff is weak. There are few follow-up questions. There is not enough poking into why the people of Pakistan are unable to change views regarding women and education. We already know that Malala is a fighter, and we only find out what we already know.

Last year, Angelina Jolie had the same issues with her film, Unbroken, about WWII Veteran Louie Zamperini. Some might argue that these films deal with subjects that are too big, perhaps, for a director to handle, but I would argue that many have successfully tackled tough, human subjects. Movies like Schindler’s List, Rescue Dawn, or even 12 Years A Slave have displayed people who survived insurmountable traumatic experiences. It is both a challenge and a responsibility for directors to keep the integrity of and respect for the subjects they film, but also to convey for us on the screen what makes a person continue after such suffering. 

Overall, He Named Me Malala is a disappointing recommendation to viewers. Malala’s story should be heard, the women of Pakistan should have a voice that speaks for women’s rights, but Guggenheim missed an opportunity to show the real Malala. 

2 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady


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