The BRWC Review: He Named Me Malala

What’s in a name? A lot and especially in the title of this documentary directed by David Guggenheim: He Named Me Malala. The documentary is about the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai. However, rather than calling the documentary: Malala or I am Malala, the title and narrative makes it inadvertently about the man behind Malala, her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, that by the end of 87 minutes will leave you questioning just what is the real story behind the this almost mythical Malala.

She is the school girl who stood up to the Taliban when they invaded and occupied Pakistan’s Swat Valley. There is no denying her courage when they, the Taliban, announced that education for girls was banned and all the education they needed was in what clothes to wear and how to cook and clean: she said no. Director, Davis Guggenheim’s documentary does show Malala in the year leading up to the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize award and all the places she visited to promote women’s rights – in Nigeria when the Boko Haram stole 200 girls etc. There’s no denying her education, wit and passion yet we musn’t forget that she is not yet an adult. There are times in the documentary I asked myself would I have had the courage to speak up and how brave she was. When she utters the words: “I am afraid of no one” that is quite true and she took a bullet for that as did two of her friends. Yes, there is where the documentary starts to unravel it was not only Malala who was injured, albeit the gravest of the injuries was suffered by her, however her two friends sitting either side were also shot.

Her two brothers are also shown in the film Khushal and Atal both very funny but their lives are lived in the shadow of her. Her mother Toor Pekai Yousafzai never says much. What is striking is that her mother is uneducated yet her father is a school teacher, impassioned by rights for all but didn’t apparently feel his wife needed educating, her beauty was enough for her. He also had political ambitions – he was vocal against the Taliban and the impression is that the bullet that Malala took was for him, to teach him a lesson. Once she was well enough and her recovery took time as it would, her father ever present and he is in nearly every shot, he accompanied her on her travels. Is it unfair to say that he saw an opportunity in Malala that would allow him to have a platform to get his views across?

The documentary’s title comes from the story of Malalai of Maiwand who when all the men were running away from battle – she stood firm and encouraged them. A lone calm voice in a sea of panic and, prophetically, she also took a bullet and died. This is the story that her father Ziauddin would recite to his pregnant wife and their unborn child. However, she says firmly: “My father only have me the name Malalai. He didn’t make me Malalai. I chose this life”. If you say something enough it is convincing and maybe that is what she has done. The documentary left a lot of questions unanswered and a certain doubt as to how freely Malala walked this path of international humanitarian.

The film was released in cinemas nationwide from Friday 6 November.

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