Title: He Named Me Malala
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Major Players: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai
Out Of Five: 3
It is, without doubt, a remarkable story, one about a modern day heroine which shows that one person can really make a difference. In just 17 years, Malala Yousafzai has seen, experienced, done and suffered more than most of us would fit into an entire lifetime. She’s an inspiration who has already been the subject of a book and now her life’s been brought to the screen in documentary, He Named Me Malala.
She originally attracted attention at her home in the Swat Valley of Pakistan when she took part in a BBC blog, speaking out against the Taliban ruling that girls shouldn’t go to school because they didn’t need to be educated. They shot her, leaving her for dead yet, against the odds, she survived. Now living in the UK, where she also goes to school, she’s become a figurehead for equality campaigners, addressing the United Nations and winning the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
It’s an inspirational story and a moving one, which makes the film an emotional watch. But does that emotional pull come just from Malala and her story, or is it down to the way it’s been brought to the big screen? It is, inevitably, a very positive portrait, glowing even, which even extends as far as the design for the film’s poster. We get glimpses of the teenager behind the public face, giggling at photographs of Brad Pitt on the internet and feeling embarrassed at school grades that others would happily settle for.
There is, however, much that we don’t see. Some of it is completely understandable. She closes down when it comes to talking about her injuries, apart from one comment when she dismisses the significance of the left side of her face not working properly. We see scans of the damage, hear news bulletins about her treatment and there’s some footage of the early stages of her physiotherapy, but that’s about it. And anything more would be uncomfortably intrusive and less than relevant.
But what’s really missing is the sense of getting to know Malala as a person. She’s a gift to a documentary maker, intelligent, articulate and with a charisma all of her own, yet the film is surprisingly superficial, almost pedestrian in the way it approaches its subject. There’s the occasional glimpse into her private world, but they just leave us wanting more and it’s something we don’t get.
Thankfully the film manages to stay the right side of syrupy, even if it is glowing. But, much as it’s moving, it leaves you with the feeling that you’ve probably only seen part of her story – mainly the public one – and that you still don’t know any more than what has already appeared in the media. Malala herself is what inspires and moves you, not the film. And that makes it a disappointment. She deserves better.
He Named Me Malala is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 6 November and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 5 November.