Posts Tagged ‘“He Named Me Malala”’

88 and Malala **

Ziauddin and Malala Yousafzai


87 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Even if “He Named Me Malala” were a mediocre example of the documentarian’s art it still would be devastating.

You couldn’t invent a story more inspiring than that of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who openly fought the Taliban’s ban on education for women, was shot in the head by an assassin, miraculously recovered, and now is key to international efforts to provide schooling for young women in often hostile environments.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “Waiting for ‘Superman’”) is clearly in awe of Malala, who possesses the uncannily calm, transcendent world view you’d expect from an 80-year-old guru or lama, but certainly not from an 18 year old.

Perhaps Guggenheim is too much in awe of his subject, for there seems to be little room here for any sort of critical perspective. I’m not asking Guggenheim to gnaw away at this remarkable  young woman’s reputation (you come away from the film humbled and inspired), but it would be nice to get a handle on how much (if any) of her activism is guided by her father, Ziauddin, an educator with big ideas.

For as the film’s title suggests, it’s as much the story of Ziauddin as of Malala.  One cannot speak of one without including the other — Malala describes them as “one soul in two different bodies.”

“He Named Me Malala” begins with an animated sequence depicting the 19th-century martyrdom of Malalai of Mailwand, the Pakistani version of Joan of Arc, who died leading native insurgents into battle against occupying British forces.

Malala narrates this story, and it clearly has personal meaning. After all, long before she became an international symbol for women’s rights her father named her after the historic Malalai.  It’s almost as if he knew she was destined for big things.

(Guggenheim returns again and again to painterly animated sequences to visually depict parts of Malala’s past for which there is no video footage.  These passages give the film a poetic quality, but also tend to prettify the brutal conditions faced by everyday folk in Taliban-controlled regions. I’m guessing that one of the film’s target audiences is teenage women and that the makers wanted to avoid the ghastly whenever possible.)


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