In Davis Guggenheim’s latest documentary, He Named Me Malala, the greatest weapon to combat the evil in the world is an education. Delving into both the events that led up to, and the aftermath of, the Taliban’s assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the film explores how one young school girl’s courage impacted and inspired the entire world. Given unprecedented access to Malala as she goes on tour promoting her memoir I Am Malala and attending numerous speaking engagements, Guggenheim’s film aims to highlight how the remarkable young woman balances such major responsibilities with the growing pains that come from being a regular teenager.
While the Taliban believed they were silencing the then fifteen-year-old on that fateful day in October 2012 when they fired a bullet into her temple – a supposed death sentence for speaking out against the terrorist organization and promoting rights for girls – their actions have only provided Malala with more fuel to fight for the rights of youth, especially young girls, all around the world. By surviving the attacks she became a beacon of strength and hope for many who lived in fear of the Taliban’s radical ways. A champion for the need for accessible forms of education, her influence is so strong that she can even orchestrate a sit down with the president of Nigeria to demand that he does more to help the Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram. While Malala’s activism efforts have been well-documented, the fact that she is still unable to return to her homeland of Pakistan weighs heavily on her and her family.
The Taliban have made it clear that they will not hesitate to make another attempt on her life if she dares to return home. There are also those within in her homeland who believe that Malala is actual doing more damage than good by portraying such a negative view of Pakistan to the global media. Influenced by the Taliban’s archaic patriarchal views, some feel she is merely after publicity and has been brainwashed by western culture.
For those familiar with Malala’s story they will find that Guggenheim’s film covers a lot of well-travelled ground. Where the film is most intriguing is when Malala lets her guard down a bit and her vulnerable side surfaces. These moments come in the scenes where Guggenheim gets Malala talking about her life in England and when he shows her relationship with her family. Whether she is interacting with her brothers, blushing when talking about Roger Federer and Brad Pitt, or sharing her disappointment with some of her grades, Guggenheim nicely reminds the audience that Malala is still just a teenage girl trying to cope with life just like everyone else.
This is further emphasized in the scenes that captured the strong bond she has wither her father, Ziauddin. The man responsible for igniting her passion for learning, Ziauddin is presented as a humble man who, like his daughter, realized early on that education could open doors and change cultures for the better.
He Named Me Malala is one of those films that is good at what it does, but whose impact will vary based on how familiar one is with the subject matter. The inspirational nature of the film’s message will leave the greatest mark on younger viewers. As Malala herself points out, it is the young adults, regardless of their age, race or gender, who will ultimately change the world simply by getting an education.
Saturday, September 19, 6:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.