By now, most people know the tragic and triumphant story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani school girl who survived a brutal attack by the Taliban in 2012 for standing up for the rights of girls to be educated.
There is not much in this film that will seem new or revelatory except for some slice of life domestic moments and insights into just how remarkable and crucial Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is to her heroic story.
As for the film itself, it is fair to say at once that I wanted less and I wanted more – less running time and more insights into who Malala is aside from the courageous daughter and silly sister we see on screen.
The documentary runs nearly an hour and a half, and it would be much more effective at half that length because it is repetitive and the interstitial animated elements don’t add much to the narrative, especially after the first one, which is used to tell the traditional story of Malalai of Maiwand.
In a move that seems prescient, Malala’s father named her after the folk hero who rallied local troops in Afghanistan against the British during the 1880s.
Telling this story and making the link between Malalai and Malala is an effective way to open the film. Malala is the remarkable daughter of a remarkable man and makes the title He Named Me Malala a fitting one for the film.
The Yousafzai family dynamics are intriguing: father and daughter inhabit a dangerous and vitally important space working for social justice while the mother’s reticence and the brothers’ lightheartedness constitute a striking contrast to the staunch advocacy of Malala and Ziauddin.
More could be done to explore this dynamic.
Watching He Named Me Malala, it is hard to believe that director Davis Guggenheim does more than skim the surface of the story, and – that being the case – it is hard not to think he takes too long to do so.