Friday, October 9, 2015

Fox Searchlight Film Review - He Named Me Malala

At the centre of Davis Guggenheim's documentary He Named Me Malala is the strong bond between a Father and Daughter. It's in the title and clearly visual as Malala Yousafzai's dad Ziauddin is by her side or just off camera at all of her public appearances and accompanies her on all of her trips around the world. The quieter thread is the realization of the Yousafzai family that they will likely never again see their home in the Swat Valley back in Pakistan having left after Malala was singled out on a bus home from school and shot by the Taliban because she had first spoke out on a BBC blog under an assumed name then openly in public.

The film opens with an animated sequence on the fabled character after whom Malala was named. The historical figure from the 19th century lead Afgan fighters back to the battlefield against the British from a mass retreat.  She is killed in battle but her fellow countrymen won a great victory because she stood up and made her voice heard. Ziauddin Yousafzai must have had a strong feeling when his daughter was born, as she would mirror her namesake by standing up as a young teenager to fearlessly defy the Taliban fighting for the right for girls to obtain a complete education.

Director Guggenheim next turns the aftermath of the shooting and Malala's waking up in a hospital bed in a foreign country. The story follows her on 2013 visits to the United States, Kenya, Nigeria, and the Jordanian Syrian border. At each stop she champions the rights of girls and children in general to have access to education. Yousafzai knows her subject well having frank discussions with President Obama then tough words for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan over his weak response to Boko Haram's abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls. The production also shows the other side of Malala to remind viewed that she is a teenage girl that both loves and battles with her two brothers, gets no special treatment from her high school teachers in Birmingham and becomes exceedingly shy when the topic turns to boys.

The films middle section climaxes with the 2013 Noble Peace prize announcement for which Malala was a leading candidate. After the announcement the narrative switches back to her rehab post shooting in Birmingham regaining her motor skills, adapting to paralysis on the left side of her face then  building up to her first address at the United Nations.

He Named Me Malala is uniquely crafted biopic on one of the leading figures for peace in the world today despite still being a teenager. The story shows her public side meeting with world leaders, accepting awards around the world and appearing on popular Television shows. Yousafzai's public activities are balanced in the piece by insightful looks at her family and private life. The film touches only briefly on decisive persona back home but at its core it's a Father daughter story about a family that because they stood up to the Taliban their daughter was thrust into the spotlight and they can never return home. It is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

He Called Me Malala | Davis Guggenheim | United Arab Emirates / U.S.A. | 2015 | 87 Minutes.

Education, Nobel Laureate, Taliban, Pakistan, Swat Valley, Boko Haram , United Nations, Syrian Refugees.

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