He Named Me Malala

He Named Me Malala

(PG) Documentary

Do you remember the story of the school girl who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for wanting to go to school? Her name is Malala.

In 2012, Malala Yousafzai was travelling to school with the rest of her classmates when a Taliban gunman came up to the bus, asked her name and shot her in the head. Miraculously, she survived the attack, but this teenager’s life was forever changed after this incident.

Malala had to recover in England and her family fled from their homeland of Pakistan. The reason for the attack was blamed on the public stand she made on the provision of education for girls in the Taliban-dominated region she came from. The perpetrators may have thought they were silencing this young education advocate, but their actions quickly led to the world being aware of this incident and to the unexpected fame of this outspoken teenager.

This new film from Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) provides the background for her public role and opens the door to the personal life of this young activist. Guggenheim provides details of her family heritage in speaking out for the rights of others, as well exploring the school bus tragedy and highlighting her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. For most viewers in the Western World, He Named Me Malala offers an other-worldly experience.

Guggenheim has become the champion of documentaries that have mass appeal. He has a knack for finding subjects that are timely and manages to develop the necessary drama for audiences to experience the life of the central characters — and even prompt them to take action. In this fast-paced news world, Malala’s story may have fallen out of consciences worldwide during the past three years. But what ensures that this story is never off the radar completely are the important issues surrounding the wellbeing of girls education and the long-term effects of the Taliban around the world.

Accomplished director Guggenheim shows the magnitude of Malala’s work and talents, but allows for her to be seen as a typical teenager going through struggles of life at school and in relationships. We also get to see her adapting to the lifestyle that has been thrust upon her. In the telling of her story, techniques such as animation are used to fill in the gaps of the family’s background. This is both a strength and weakness — the necessary back story is provided but this does leave the film with a documentary pacing that can be arduous at times.

But Guggenheim effectively delivers the adventures of this Pakistani family and the captivating personality of Malala. He Named Me Malala is truly carried by this charismatic young woman, her journey to educate girls around the world and the sacrifices that she is willing to make to see the world change.

Three key elements that stand out about Malala Yousafzai in He Named Me Malala are her faith, her ability to forgive and the devotion to her father. She chooses to remain true to her Muslim heritage, even though the perpetrators of the violent act against her shared a similar faith. But as her father stated, the Taliban is not a faith, but an ideology of power. She also conveys maturity and courage, despite the tragedy that occurred in her life. Memorable is her willingness to forgive the men who perpetrated this crime against her and those who continue to threaten her life everyday.

Finally, throughout He Named Me Malala, she shows a love for her father and his moral ideals. Malala never blames him for the life-threatening situations she was put in, but sees the value of the fight for the rights of education for girls around the world.

Even without sharing her Muslim faith, it would be hard not to be inspired by the work and the life of Malala Yousafzai.

Leaving the cinema…

This compelling story is worth the time for anyone to understand the needs around the world for education of girls and for the eventual elimination of the Taliban. The film provides a very human side of Malala, but will inspire people of all faiths and backgrounds.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

  1. What does the Bible say about the treatment of women? (Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:11)
  2. How are we supposed to respond to violence? (Psalm 11:5, Matthew 26:52-54)
  3. Where can we find true forgiveness? (Mark 11:25, Ephesians 4:32)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger

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