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Christopher Mitchell
Christopher Mitchell

He Named Me Malala

He Named Me Malala is a 2015 American documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim. The film presents the young Pakistani female activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who has spoken out for the rights of girls, especially the right to education, since she was very young. The film also recounts how she survived and has become even more eloquent in her quest after being hunted down and shot by a Taliban gunman as part of the organization's violent opposition to girls' education in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The title refers to the Afghani folk hero Malalai of Maiwand, after whom her father named her.

He Named Me Malala

In 2012, Malala Yousafzai -- a Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani humanitarian and activist -- was shot in her neighborhood for speaking against the Taliban and advocating for girls' right to be educated in her home country (and around the world). In HE NAMED ME MALALA, director Davis Guggenheim takes an intimate look at Malala's life, both as a public figure and as a teenage daughter/older sister, in the 18 months before she was named the recipient of one of the world's highest honors.

Guggenheim makes use of beautiful animated paintings to depict the Malala of lore, after whom the famous teen is named, imbuing her life with a sense of manifest destiny. Through interviews with Malala, we get to know her as a relatable, three-dimensional figure preoccupied with typical concerns ("will I make friends with the girls at my new school?") and larger global worries ("will I ever see my country again in peace?") He Named Me Malala is both humanizing and inspiring. Bravo!

That's a big, complex question, but the short answer threaded through He Named Me Malala, which is based on a memoir written by Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, is that this preternaturally brave young woman, in a fairly traditional Muslim family that doesn't lack for a son, is a daddy's girl. A daddy's girl in a good way, that is, though perhaps less so for her mother, whose own education was cut short, and who remains a benign but shadowy presence barely in frame. Malala's father Ziauddin, an educator and an outspoken critic of the Taliban himself, beams with pride for the firstborn he named after the legend of a Pashtun woman warrior, Malalai of Marwand. Malalai's courage and charisma, which we see in beautifully hand-drawn animated sequences by Jason Carpenter, is said to have inspired an army of Afghan soldiers to defend their country from the British. She was murdered for her trouble, which makes her quite an act to follow, and Malala came close to sharing her fate.

To be fair to Guggenheim, he does a fine job of summing up Yousafzai's young but growing legacy for those who were too busy keeping up with the Kardashians. Thanks to some animation that looks like impressionistic painting, we learn that she was named, in part, for an Afghani girl named Malalai, who in 1880 rallied local troops against British invaders but who lost her life in the battle. Think of her as a central Asian Joan of Arc.

Using animation, interviews with Malala and her equally passionate father, Ziauddin, Guggenheim tells of the girl named for a famous female Afghan poetess/warrior, raised in the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani government let the Taliban find safe haven after they were run out of Afghanistan. 041b061a72


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