by Elizabeth Kirchoff, Research and Education Intern
He Named Me Malala is a thought-provoking biopic of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai. The film traces her life and her life’s work, education, from the profound origin of her name to one of her recent speeches on the floor of a United Nations conference. One clear purpose of this work is to protect and promote children’s education, especially girls’ education in Pakistan.
Centered on the life and work of Malala Yousafzai, born in 1997, as well as her father and family, the film covers the spectrum of Malala’s life so far in a truthful, human, and relatable way. We learn that over four-hundred schools were destroyed by bombs in Pakistan, but also that Malala sometimes fights with her brothers, loves cricket, and that her favorite book is The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In this way, the filmmakers construct a heart-warming biographic film.
Thematically, one idea woven throughout the film is the importance of the freedom of speech, and the equal importance of exercising this right, and this is illustrated in many ways. For example, the opening scene of the film shows how a Malala of ancient times used her voice to encourage her people to fight. Correspondingly, the film depicts 2015’s modern-day Malala as well as her father speaking out against the deadly oppression of the Taliban in Swat Valley, Pakistan. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, even says, “If my rights are violated, I should better die than live.” In this way, the importance of standing up and speaking out for our human rights, such as education, seems to be one of the strongest motifs of the film.
Another key note throughout the documentary is the significance of storytelling. Even the title of the film itself indicates a larger story beyond the four words, “He Named Me Malala.” It implies a father figure, and so the viewer is intrigued to know more. Plus, the films opens with an animated sequence narrated by Malala herself as she retells the story of her namesake. She goes on to explain, ““When I was little, many people would say, ‘Change Malala’s name. It’s a bad name; it means sad.’ But my father would always say, ‘No, it has another meaning Bravery.’” In this way, He Named Me Malala is a complex and varied network of interconnected and meaningful stories, which together act as a great lesson as to the importance of storytelling and in general.
But it is important not to forget that He Named Me Malala is more than a film. It is also a call to action. Like director Davis Guggenheim’s previous work, He Named Me Malala promises to change the hearts and minds of many people. And what An Inconvenient Truth was to climate change, and Waiting for Superman was to US public education, so He Named Me Malala is to children’s education. In short, He Named Me Malala is not just about Malala, but about all oppressed people, and in this way it helps to spin the wheel of positive change.
And for all of these reasons, we need to support Malala and educate our children of their rights and the importance of exercising their rights, especially rights too often endangered nowadays, such as quality education. I recommend this film to everyone. The world should have more films like He Named Me Malala to lift up and empower people through the promotion of courage, hope, and education. Or in the words of Malala herself, “One student, one book, one pen, and one teacher can change the world.”