Written by Yosra Osman

Arts

Review: He Named Me Malala

Can a film do justice to the extraordinary story of Malala Yousafzai? We sent Yosra Osman to take a look.

Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox.

It’s hard for me to find the right words to adequately describe Malala Yousafzai. One of the most important advocates for women’s and children’s rights, she is a remarkable young woman who became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner at age 17.

Davis Guggenheim is the director who has taken on the task of making a documentary about Malala, a young woman who is so inspirational it’s hard to imagine if a film can do justice to her extraordinary achievements.

We all know Malala’s story: at the age of 15, she was shot in the Swat valley by the Taliban. Her crime: defending girls’ and women’s rights to be educated. It’s a horrendous act, still shocking to think about three years later, but in the documentary Malala says she feels no anger towards the Taliban. It’s one of the few things she does say about the incident and she chooses not to talk about her suffering.

Instead, He Named Me Malala allows us to see how incredible her life has become, where the high-profile world of visiting US talkshows and meeting political leaders is seamlessly blended in with the comforting normality of her new life in Birmingham.

A touching portrait of Malala’s life is drawn from a mix of archival news footage and interviews. The most enchanting and moving aspects of this come from family relationships: Malala giggles with her brothers in one scene, and talks honestly and maturely about her mother’s adjustment to life in England in another. There is a real beauty in the portrayal of her relationship with her father, the ‘He’ derived from the film’s title.

As Malala’s biggest supporter, Ziauddin Yousafzai named her after the Afghan folk heroine Malalai of Maiwind, who rallied local Pashtun fighters against British troops. He is fiercely proud of his daughter and their shared passion for humanity is clear, though, as Malala points out, “[He] gave me the name Malala. He didn’t make me Malala.”

It is impossible not to admire Malala and this documentary offers a fine portrait of a hugely important young woman. She is articulate, engaging, and charmingly funny, but the message of her story is clear from the offset. Her fight for humanity has made her a true icon of our times. At 18, she has already made her mark on history, and you can’t help but feel that she’s only just getting started.

@yozzie_osman

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions