The documentary He Named Me Malala is of course the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who fought for girls to be educated just like boys, and refused to be intimidated by the fascistic Taliban who in 2012 shot her in the head.
She survived to become the youngest Nobel laureate in history, co-receiving (with activist Kailash Satyarthi) the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
As we learn from alternating passages—rendered in storybook fashion artfully presented in animated sequences—she was named Malala after Malalai of Maiwand, a Pashtun poet and folk heroine who was martyred while championing opposition to the British in Afghanistan. The “He” of the movie’s title is Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an activist in his own right who feels some guilt for his daughter’s having been targeted.
In fact, Malala herself explains otherwise, emphasizing that while her father named her, she is responsible for her own determination to stand for her cause: the equality of men and women, boys and girls, especially women becoming liberated by being educated. Some issues have only one side, and this is such an issue, as Malala would most assuredly agree.
Malala began speaking out about her “basic right to education” in 2008, and started working actively for that cause the following year. The attempted assassination sparked worldwide support that, in turn, led to the ratification of the first Right to Education bill in Pakistan.
As surgeries for her bullet wounds continued (one bullet perforated her head and neck, lodging in her shoulder), followed by subsequent rehabilitation, honors were showered upon her. Yet she remains essentially an unassuming, “normal” girl, although she is also an admirably poised and elegant young lady of international renown.
She is a remarkable, fiercely brave young role model for children—and adults—the world over. He Named Me Malala, the inspiring documentary of her life, was ably directed by Davis Guggenheim (who previously directed An Inconvenient Truth), and is graced with a rich score by Thomas Newman. As to acting, the main actor is Malala, and she had only to play herself—or rather her larger-than-life persona on the world stage.
Rating: Four wooden nickels (out of four)