He Named Me Malala

Fox Searchlight Pictures           87 minutes          PG-13

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

Malala has become a world- renowned fighter and Nobel Peace Prize recipient at 17 using words and books as her weapons. This is a documentary of her life from birth till now. She’s still young and already a symbol of education for girls around the world.  Malala survived a bullet to the head which nearly killed her. She was writing a blog which infuriated the Taliban pushing for education for girls in the Swat Valley in Pakistan

Director is Davis Guggenheim(An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman) told us at our screening he was inspired by her because he has two daughters. He had to gain Malala’s trust and that of her family to tell her story. Malala’s father is really her co-star and the biggest influence for her love of education. Her mother, who is a beauty and her spiritual advisor, is only now learning to read.

Ziauddin Yousafzai is an educator and when his daughter was born, he was inspired by a story called The Battle of Maywan, about a young girl who became the symbol of courage for fighting back during a war between Egypt and Turkey. And when a relative brought a family tree exclusively with the names of males to her father, he wrote in Malala’s name. She was  the first woman on the scroll.

Guggenheim, who told us that he was half Jewish/half Episcopalian, says the story depicts a positive view of Islam. Yousafzai named his daughter Malala and encouraged her to be smart, curious and educated. Her motto is “It is better to live like a lion for one day than to live like sheep for a hundred years.”

Guggenheim says he had to go to the family, sans camera, and talk with them for 3 hours, recording audio only, no video. Once he gained their trust, he told us they never questioned or refused him taping anything. They didn’t even ask to see the film before the first screening. There are candid interviews with her two precocious younger brothers. He shows the teasing and love in this very tight family. But Malala is closest to her father. She describes them as “two souls in one body.”

Sounds serious, but you see they actually have a lot of fun. Malala says she had no TV, no Books, nor boyfriends  growing up. But she loves to laugh and is good at magic, particularly, card tricks. And like any teenager, she has her crushes. In Malala’s case it’s Roger Federer and Brad Pitt.

Guggenheim decided to tell Malala’s story using archival photos of the news reports and photos when she was shot along with two school friends sitting on her school bus. He then follows her to her many appearances, book signings of her autobiography, and times with the family. Because she exposed the Taliban, she is sad that she can never go back to her home in Swat Valley.

Is this worth your bucks? This is a remarkable story about an exceptional human being who has no fear. She has become a global personality and symbol for education. The Malala Fund is her personal foundation to build schools around the world in countries where girls are denied the opportunity to learn.  And this film about forgiveness and education is going to be distributed in 190 countries.

Guggenheim uses CG animation devised by his own team to show several important parts of Malala’s life. The animation is smooth and beautiful and looks like watercolor paintings come to life. But sometimes the animated scenes are too long and slow the movie down. Also, there is a lot of repetition following Malala to similar situations and interactions with people, including her brothers. We think that could have been shortened for better pacing. But the back story of her father, in particular, is fascinating. He overcame obstacles himself to keep education for others going.

This incredible story of one girl’s path from a Pakistani village to the World Stage is deeply moving, personal and humbling. We see Malala struggle with physics lessons the same day she meets heads of state to demand action to help other girls get their chance in a classroom. There’s much to make you sad and angry in this film, but the over-riding message Malala delivers is hope. See this movie to find out why she truly lives up to her name.