Based on the best selling book I Am Malala, director Davis Guggenheim's He Named Me Malala provides a visual representation of the life of 18-year old Pakistani world activist and leader Malala Yousafzai. The film opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
Many know her name and the vague outlines of her story, but the movie plunges into unexpected details about her background and family life. For instance, Malala admits, laughing, that she slaps her little brothers around. “It is a sign of how much I love you—I give you a slap on the face,” she explains to the youngest. Despite all of Malala’s accomplishments, she is endearingly normal, evidenced by plenty of home-footage.
Malala was born in Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan in 1997. (That’s right, 1997. And she has already won a Nobel Peace Prize). When the Taliban arrives in her town in the mid-2000s, they slowly unveil their despotic plans. The Mullah even seems progressive at first—he's the first man to address woman directly over the radio. However, her father soon becomes outspoken against the violent and oppressive group and encourages Malala to do the same, after first in discrete ways. Malala eventually becomes a public figure and her family must leave Swat after she sustains a life-threatening attack by the Taliban.
Malala’s relationship with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is a major focal point of the film—the “He” in the film’s title refers to him. Ziauddin tells of Malala’s early life in which “father and girl were dependent on each other.” As the title suggests, he also gave her her name. After he explains the origin of the now infamous name, Malala’s story seems to unfold before our eyes as mysteriously predestined.
The creatively imagined movie includes animation by Sean Buckelew that reenacts events from Malala’s past. The animation is simple and endearing, leagues above history channel live-actor reenactments. Ultimately, the film is a short, easy watch about one of the most important figures of out time. Malala’s physical and emotional difficulties don’t get much coverage, besides a momentary clip in which the interviewer remarks, “You don’t like to talk about your pain” to the teenager. Some provocative questions go unanswered as well, like whether it was right for her father to put her in danger. At its worst, it seems to gloss over this young woman’s remarkable tale, but gives glimpses into Malala’s person life that make it worth the watch. The documentary wraps up with her famous speech at the UN, ending on an uplifting note.