He Named Me Malala (2015)


Film review, by Maysa Moncao, of the documentary about the women’s educational rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

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Director: Davis Guggenheim. Twentieth Century Fox. (PG)




Cast & credits

Producers: Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Davis Guggenheim.
Camera: Erich Roland.
Music: Thomas Newman.

Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai.


A look at the events leading up to Taliban’s attack on a Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls’ education.


In Ancient civilizations of Eastern Culture, words and names were not a representation of what was named, but they were the creatures themselves. For instance, whenever someone spoke the name of the god Ea in Sumerian mythology, it was if they were calling into presence all the realms that name suggests, which in this case is the god of fresh waters. We can see a trace of that heritage even today, when some words that suggest evil are avoided, such as “Devil” or “cancer”. So to be named after the Afghan folk heroine Malalai, a Jeanne d’Arc figure in the 1880s, is not an innocent gest. On the contrary, it brings to surface the idea of martyrdom in a powerful way.

Malala Yousafzai’s personal story is especially moving. Her father was a teacher in Pakistan and she was raised under the value that only education can change the world. When the Taliban took power in Pakistan, they destroyed 400 schools around the country and no girl would be allowed to go to school. On one of those attacks, Malala was severed wounded by a gunshot. She was only 15. She miraculously survived and decided to speak up for womens’ right for education, causing her to leave the country.

Davis Guggenheim’s (An Inconvenient Truth, 2006 and Waiting For Superman, 2010) documentary mixes cinema verité and animation and gives an inside glimpse of a leading compaigner and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He records intimate moments with her family and her new school in Britain as well as her trips with her foundation. Her close relationship with her father is somewhat Oedipial, keeping her apart from the world other teenagers live (boys and fun), but also consists of a portrait of a resilient young woman who dares to carry a strong message. This week she met the actress Emma Watson, another feminist, and told her she trully believes America needs a woman in the Presidency. In fact, she states there is no difference between a woman and a man.

Probably, this is a scarey statement, as well as the title “feminist” is too. To make it a welcoming and inclusive movement, there is still lots to be done. There are differences between women and men, and this is particularly what we are ignoring in order to build a world together.

Though mainly a conventional doc, He Named Me Malala serves its purpose. It pictures the fight of a young woman not for knowledge, but for action. I guess this is one of the highest aims for a documentarist to spread.

Maysa Moncao

View the official trailer on Youtube.




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