November 6 2015
A US documentary-maker goes behind the scenes and presents a picture of a family trying to settle in a new land…
YOU WOULD hardly think a film was needed to further the cause of Malala Yousafzai.
The teenage political prodigy is one of the most famous faces on the planet and her constellation enthrals all, particularly for some in the West.
In a new feature film documentary, “He Named Me Malala”, Malala and her Dad get the Hollywood treatment.
Filmed ostensibly from October 2013 when she didn’t get the Nobel Prize to October 2014 when she did, this is a revealing and enjoyable portrait, but best taken at face value – without too much politics.
Malala herself is hugely likeable and you cannot feel anything but admiration for the way she has battled against dark forces and seemingly to date, at least, won.
Film Director Davis Guggenheim does a decent job of getting behind the family that produced the girl that is Malala.
There is a little bit too of her mother – who is rarely seen in the public eye and her two younger, cheekier brothers are good value too in short spurts.
But of course the real hero is not Malala but her father. Some have been critical for the way he continues to push and prompt her – though he might argue it is actually the other way around.
The film deals with her background and her flight from Pakistan quite well, if a little simplistically.
Using animation for the much younger Malala and the plight of those caught in the unsparing glare of the Taliban morality code, the film charts her remarkable transformation from Swat schoolgirl to global heroine.
There is even some space for her critics – a number in Pakistan see her as a stooge of the West and little more. There are a couple of brief vox pops and their arguments are flimsy at best, prejudiced and whimsical, at worst. An Pakistani (origin) director might have probed a bit more and got underneath the issues.
A lot of people are predicting awards for this – and while it is very stirring and commendable in parts, you do feel Malala is an easy subject and such is her own winning persona that few directors could actually make a mess of this.
It’s not an analytical film or even one with an inquiring or sceptical disposition – which might actually have led to a better film – as indeed are the best documentaries, but rather the portrait of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood and global political leadership.
There are some touching moments, like when she talks about cricketers she likes and not just because they are good with the bat and/or the ball (wink, wink) . . . or she talks about some of her schoolfriends already getting through a boyfriend or two, and they’re not even 18.
In the summer, her father proudly tweeted her exceptional GCSE results and there is much speculation as to where she will wind up on the academic ladder. Some think Stanford, others Oxford, but wherever it is Birmingham has become home, at least for the time being.
She does pine for her Swat and Pakistan in general and you do wonder whether she will ever return there in the near future knowing there is still a bounty on her head.
If you know nothing about Malala or are only dimly aware of what she stands for, this is an excellent film in many ways. You can see it sweeping through schools and creating a few thousand Malalas. Let’s hope so. To this end, there’s an interview with film star Emma Watson about the film.
While it’s by no means a bad watch, it’s just a little too in love with itself to ask some more searching questions and tease out perhaps some more interesting revelations from its central protagonists. (Sailesh Ram)
ACV rating: ***
‘He Named Me Malala’ goes out on release in the UK today (November 6)