He Named Me Malala

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03/11/15

There are all kinds of movies for all kinds of audiences; and then there are films that are so important, you feel they should be required viewing for the entire population of every country it’s screened in. So it’s rather dispiriting to attend this advance showing of He Named Me Malala to find that only a dozen or so people have turned out to see it, while just next door, several screens are packed to bursting point for the latest Bond movie.

The Malala in question, is, of course, Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakinstani girl who in 2012 was shot in the head by Taliban soldiers for having the effrontary to campaign for something unthinkable: the right of a female to an education. They’d thought to make an example of her but against all the odds, she survived, to become something much more powerful than a martyr. She has become a figurehead for all women who long for and work towards equal opportunities. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, at which point the leaders of the Taliban must have realised that they had, almost literally, shot themselves in their collective foot.

This affecting documentary, directed by Paul Weitz, visits Malala in exile at her home in Birmingham. She is interviewed extensively as is her activist father, Zaiuddin, along with her mother and two brothers. The rest of the film is made up from newsreel footage, reenactments of some of the key scenes in her life and some eye-catching animation sequences which give an insight into the community in which she grew up. Malala is unbelievably charismatic and articulate beyond her years. It’s ironic that her name came from the folk story of a legendary young girl who led her country’s warriors into battle with the British and was shot dead in the process. We see her conversing with Presidents and Prime Ministers, we hear her speaking to the United Nations and we begin to appreciate that it’s more than just circumstance that has put her into the the world’s gaze. What she has to say is extraordinarily affecting and it’s a cold soul indeed who won’t tear up at the film’s poignant conclusion.

As a reviewer, I might argue that the cinematography could have been better, that the score might have been improved, that certain ideas were not pursued to their full extent; but given the incredible power of the subject matter, and the charisma of Malala herself, I can’t really do anything else but give this full marks and implore people to go and see it while you have the opportunity. Bond will be around for ages and sadly, based on the evidence of tonight’s screening, this lovely film may not.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

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