Having done so much already and spoken out against the Taliban for depriving women of education, it’s hard to not have heard of young activist Malala Yousafzai. Named after Malalai, the Pashtun heroine, Malala was born and raised in the Swat valley of Pakistan. Encouraged by her father Ziauddin Yousafzai to love and value education, she stood up for women’s right to be educated and at the precious age of 15, was shot in the head while on a bus for rebelling against the Taliban. Miraculously surviving the bullet but losing feeling in the left side of her face, Malala has relocated to England where she continues to learn and travel the world to speak about educating women.

Director Davis Guggenheim (Waiting for Superman) has it easy this time around because the subject of He Named Me Malala has such an inspiring story and is so likable that Guggenheim serves merely to be the vehicle by which the story travels. Everyone who will watch the film will be familiar with Malala the activist and so Guggenheim starts the film by showing us Malala the person, the sister, and the daughter. The story isn’t told in any sort of chronological order, but it goes at its own pace, never feeling rushed or jumbled. Malala’s story is enhanced by the fact that she–besides being an activist, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a fantastic and inspirational public speaker–is a truly relatable person on so many levels. When she speaks there is no sense of a hero complex about her and her words carry because she is truly passionate about education.

One of the most endearing aspects of this superb documentary is the relationship between Malala and her father Ziauddin. There isn’t anything boastful about the way it’s presented, but you can tell that the two care for and are inspired by each other. The film breaks away from Malala very briefly to give us Ziauddin’s background and how he was inspired by his father to speak passionately and publicly, even though he stammers, and how this was essentially passed down to Malala. Guggenheim accentuates all of the stories told prior to Malala’s stand with clever and beautifully fluid animated sequences.

He Named Me Malala is well-made, inspiring, and full of moments that will touch your heart in ways many documentaries of this nature won’t. Malala is every bit brave, passionate, and relatable. She’s a young woman trying to fight for women’s right to be educated and she is so genuine, sweet, yet firm in her choice of activism that it’s honestly surprising she hasn’t grown any kind of ego with all the attention she’s received–making her all the more normal and notable in her efforts. Guggenheim doesn’t have to reach very far to keep you interested in her or her story and it’s a film everyone should aspire to see.


Release Date: October 9, 2015 | Director: Davis Guggenheim | With: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai | Genre: Documentary | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats


About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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