I just got out of the world premiere for Davis Guggenheim’s He Named Me Malala. It was a special event for me for more than one reason: the film was my very first at the Telluride Film Festival, and I got to meet one of my heroes – the woman responsible for inspiring me to write for this site (and my own before that), Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone. It was such a pleasure to get to meet her, along with all of the other writers I follow on a regular basis, including Kris Tapley, Jeff Wells, and Tomris Laffly. I am quite surprised by how congenial they all are in person.
The film itself, however, has me a little in the middle. For those who are not familiar with Malala Yousafzai, she is a teenage Pakistani activist who stood up to the Taliban in support of female education, and as a result, took a bullet to her forehead while on her school bus. She miraculously survived the assassination attempt, which sparked international support for Malala and her cause.
The most amazing thing about Malala is that she doesn’t realize how extraordinary she is, and on the surface she behaves like any other girl in her teens: teasing and fighting with her brothers regularly, struggling with body image, and even worrying about boys. But there is nothing ordinary about this brilliant and powerful girl. If you believe in reincarnation, you might come to the conclusion that she is the rebirth of both Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein at their best.
Mahala has always had the constant support of her father, who never believed in clipping her wings. Instead he is steadfast in his beliefs that Malala, and every girl like her, should have ultimate freedom, especially as it pertains to education. In return, Malala always speaks what is inside her heart and soul, never afraid of what may come as a result. She states that while her father may have given her her name, she alone chose the life of an activist.
While Malala is one of the most inspirational figures of our time – the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize – there is something to the film itself that felt a bit choppy, as the pace and tone dance a bit too often from storyline to storyline, never quite setting a solid foot down to tell a complete narrative. I enjoyed Guggenheim’s use of animation to depict the past, but it just felt a bit off structurally.
Regardless, Malala makes the whole thing worthwhile, and in the presser following, we were introduced to her father (live) and the young activist (via satellite). It was quite an occasion, and hearing her state she cared more about the excellent marks she recently received in school over the Nobel Peace Prize she won the year before made it all the more eloquent.