Review: He Named Me Malala

Getting shot in the head is enough to make most people reconsider their chosen path in life. After going through major surgery with a substantial rehabilitation period, Malala Yousafzai dusted herself off and got back in front of cameras, got back to reading books, and got back to spreading the word that girls have a right to learn.

He Named Me Malala is a compact and accessible little documentary that shows snapshots of Malala’s life. Harrowing news footage of schools being blown up by the Taliban is juxtaposed with Malala playfully introducing her family, saying the older of her two brothers is the lazy one, and that when her brothers fight she takes the young one away and slaps him across the face anyway.

Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, has a prominent role throughout. Malala is clear when she says she chose the life she leads all by herself, but her father’s influence is undeniable, as he is seen speaking out in public in defence of education and protesting the use of Islam by terrorists to spread hate and violence.

The main problem He Named Me Malala suffers from is the lack of new information. If you know anything about Malala Yousafzai, then you know she is an activist for education, particularly education for girls, in the face of those who try to take it away. This is inspiring, and the movie acts as an easy-watch reminder of the good things that Malala continues to do, but it feels more like a 90 minute PSA than a biography or investigation.

Hands-on approach

That is not to cheapen what is being shown. Malala bravely calls out the men by name who target her and her region, she continues to speak after being severely harmed, and she is seen to be an extremely active figure. If the documentary gets one thing right it is showing her talking to girls her age, fearlessly roaming areas where her life is genuinely in danger. She is well known in the west for her speeches, but the movie sheds some light on her more hands-on approach.

It carefully humanises a person who has become an iconic symbol of defiance. Playing cards at home with her family acts as a reminder that an 18 year old girl ought to be enjoying life without the fear of violence and without the need to campaign for others like her. If anything, it is a relief that in among all of her public appearances, she does enjoy some downtime. She has earned it.

Lacking new information

But ultimately, He Named Me Malala feels incomplete. It showcases the amazing work of Malala Yousafzai without revealing anything we do not already know. There is also the feeling that her book I Am Malala may in fact offer up far more insightful information than the movie seems up for approaching. The film is likely to cater for fans of Malala, and yet those who bother to go to the cinema to see it also likely already know everything that is in it.

A movie is more accessible than a book to lots of people, and so perhaps people will engage with it who have only heard her name in passing, and it would work as excellent viewing in schools. If so, this is a welcoming place to start discovering the great work 2014’s Nobel Peace Prize winner has done in her short life thus far. If you already know about her, this is a nice little reminder to celebrate her work and to keep on fighting because the other side fights back, and she needs every voice she can get.