He Named Me Malala Review
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As the mother of a little girl, I’ve never questioned whether my daughter will get an education; it’s just a matter of which school she’ll attend. In many countries, though, young girls don’t have the same opportunities. And in his latest documentary, He Named Me Malala, director Davis Guggenheim focuses on a courageous young girl who fought to get an education and paid the price.

He Named Me Malala tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who dared to speak out against the Taliban leadership in her town. Named after a legendary woman who fought against oppression and was killed for her beliefs, Malala was raised by an outspoken father who ran a school where he taught his students to rebel against traditions—to stand up for truth and freedom. But when Malala stood up to condemn the Taliban’s rules—specifically those preventing girls from getting an education—she was shot and almost killed.

Now living with her family in England, Malala has become an international figure, speaking out against injustice and promoting education—for all children, no matter what their gender, race, religion, or social standing. She certainly has a story to tell—one that’s both heartbreaking and inspiring—but Guggenheim never seems to get a firm grasp on the story that he’s trying to tell.

Of course, that’s understandable—because there are so many facets to this remarkable teen’s life. On one hand, she’s a world-renowned activist, traveling the globe to increase awareness and advocate freedom and equality. But she’s also a teenage girl who goes to school, does her homework, struggles with regular teen insecurities, and fights with her little brothers. And as the film follows Malala from her home to her school to a number of international appearances, she also takes the time to reflect on her past—to talk about her family, her childhood in Pakistan, and life under Taliban rule.

There’s a lot going on here—and, for that reason, the story can feel somewhat unfocused as it skips along from one topic to another. But it’s also moving and even hopeful, with strong characters and striking watercolor imagery to give the narration a dramatic, artistic touch. Malala’s past may be one of injustice and fear, but she’s turned it into good, using her story to educate, enlighten, and inspire.

He Named Me Malala isn’t Guggenheim’s most organized film. In trying to capture every aspect of this extraordinary girl’s story, he has a tendency to get sidetracked. But it’s still a moving and eye-opening biography.

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