“I am afraid of no one.”
These words, spoken with sincere conviction by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, set the tone for Davis Guggenheim’s latest documentary, ‘He Named Me Malala’. As Guggenheim balances the dual lives of Malala through her teenager years, we are shown a side not just of education advocate and national hero, but of a young and insecure teenage girl.
We begin the film with the tale of Malalai of Maiwand – a female warrior who claimed that ‘to live one day as a lion is better than 100 years a slave’. The striking animation gives us a vibrant and imaginative glance into how the Yousafzais see the world, and herein sets the foundation for the journey set ahead.
From the beginning, Malala is no ordinary woman. As a young girl from Pakistan, she rose above the Taliban and spoke publicly about how women across all nations deserve the right to education. By the time she turned 17 she was a hero. The tragic tale of her attempted assassination but recovery to worldwide acclaim is how Guggenheim shapes the narrative.
Much like his previous work, such as ‘Waiting For Superman’, director and producer Davis Guggenheim seamlessly balances these two personalities. The story continuously cuts to the home life of Malala and her siblings, where we see them preparing dinner, playing board games, and getting ready for school. She shows us dozens of pictures of Roger Federer and claims to appreciate him for his tennis skills.
Just his skills? We hear a voice challenge her. Malala blushes, looks away and unconvincingly repeats, “just his skills…”
Upon entering into Malala’s bedroom, she takes out her grade book and shows us her ‘embarrassing’ test scores. “I only got 68 in Biology. Biology is hard.”
Cut to the next scene, where Malala walks into the White House and into the office of United States’ president Barack Obama. She talks about freedom, equality, and the root of her actions – the right for education. Well played, Guggenheim – you almost had us.
This is the very foundation that makes ‘He Named Me Malala’ such a compelling piece of cinema. It seems to tell us that nothing is black and white, and that we’re not always the person that is constructed by the media.
“If you were a normal person, what would you be doing in Pakistan today?”
Malala shuts down a reporter during one of her many interviews. Why, she IS a normal person – who is she to claim otherwise? However, she mentions her parents for allowing her the opportunity to grow up and say how she feels.
Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father, is a humble man, who is barely overcoming a stammer and works hard to maintain a normal family life. He accompanies his daughter around the world where she uses him as a support during her times. Her mother, Tor Pekai Yousafzai, remains humbly in the background throughout the majority of the film, as her English is weak and seems to be unhappy with the family moving to Birmingham, England. It is a compelling example of the boundaries we cross for family.
There aren’t many characters in ‘He Named Me Malala’, which allows the ideas of determination and passion to head to the forefront. As we sink further into the life and mind into such a special young woman, we can’t help but wonder what lies ahead.
‘He Named Me Malala’ is released in the USA on October 9 2015.