I would not want to be the person tasked with creating a documentary about one of the world’s most inspiring people currently alive. Luckily I wasn’t and Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) has brought He Named Me Malala to our screens.
This life affirming documentary opens with the tale from which her name originates; about Malala who rallied the Pakistani troops against the British in the Battle of Maiwand. The retelling of which is beautifully done through painted animation that emphasise the national folk hero’s voice with sparks of light. The rest of the film plays with this strong theme of voice and speaking up through news images and intimate family interviews.
The ‘he’, in the title, is her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who struggled with stammering from an early age. His ability to be strong of voice came when he was speaking passionately about his beliefs. The film asks us and him whether he as her father, as an activist and as a public speaker drove her into the line fire. Whether naming her the way he did and inspiring her to speak up drove her into danger.
The title is a strange twist on the name of her book that inspired the film, but by no means does it indicate a watering down of her centre stage in the story. In one way the story is about her extraordinary work as a public figure while also concentrating on her ordinary life and her ordinary family. The film does well to capture the conflicting worlds of someone who is young but has a wide understanding of the world due to the circumstances they were brought up. Malala shows incredible wisdom about why it is her mom has a harder time adapting to life in Birmingham and in her response to Guggenheim trying to unravel her feelings towards the Taliban, who shot her for saying girls should go to school.
It can be argued that the film drops into hagiography but with focus on such an exhilarating and uplifting story and woman, or girl even, it is understandable. This girl earned the nobel peace prize while studying for her GCSEs, she’s barely had chance to do anything wrong so that balance would be hard to draw, so the film chooses to make you feel the true remarkable nature of her character. Occasionally the subject matter demands nothing but hero worship.
Verdict: Remarkable girl with a fascinating story that demands a hagiography to remind us what it is that makes Malala important.