Movie Review: “He Named Me Malala”

malalaOf all the crimes against civilization committed by those Islamic barbarians, the Taliban, none is more telling than their attempted assassination of a teenage girl. And the reason they wanted and still want her dead? Because she dares to stand up for education for her gender, dares to point out how backward, cruel and tiny in number they are.

Malala Yousafzai is short, young and female, from a part of the world where people of that description have the fewest rights, and the least power and influence in all of society.

Just 18 years of age, she is supremely articulate and bi-lingual, does pretty good in her new British school, though not in physics, among other subjects.

But she’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov prize, a regular on Time Magazine’s “Most Influential People in the World” list, and is regarded as an international icon of human rights and education. And that’s simply because she’s unfathomably brave. 

The documentary “He Named Me Malala” humanizes the icon, showing her picking on (and being picked on) by her younger brothers (“She is the naughtiest girl on Earth!”), blushing over the bad grades on school tests. She smiles a crooked smile, because one side of her face has so much nerve damage from the shooting that it doesn’t quite work. She will talk about the attack, but not about the suffering it caused her.

And then she takes the stage, or the printed page, and these words pour out — passionate, logical, beautifully constructed arguments and thoughts.

She would rather “live like a lion for one day than live 100 years a slave.”

Director Davis Guggenheim (“Waiting for Superman”) is still focusing on education, but here, on a student willing to die for her father’s right to teach and run schools and her and her Pakistani sisters’ rights to attend them.

Using animation, interviews with Malala and her equally passionate father, Ziauddin, Guggenheim tells of the girl named for a famous female Afghan poetess/warrior, raised in the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani government let the Taliban find safe haven after they were run out of Afghanistan.

Recordings of the radio sermons of the fanatic who took over the region, Mullah Fazlullah, and Malala’s narration tell of the velvet gloves he and his cohort used at first, followed by mass murders of police, assassinations and interpretations of Sharia Law that had him shaming “sinners” at the end of his sermon-broadcasts. Those sinners inevitably wound up dead.

Malala volunteered, when asked, to do an anonymous blog about life under the Taliban in Swat Valley for the BBC. When she saw schools demolished, town by town, and was forbidden to be taught, she mate the fateful decision to go public — appear on the BBC, speak in public, and invite the wrath of those she threatened.

Attempting to kill her almost paid off. But in the end, it made her more famous. We see her visiting schools in Africa and South America, chastising the president of Nigeria for not tracking down the hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls there and President Obama for drone strikes that she says are creating more terrorists.

Guggenheim has her describe, in detail, that fateful bus ride. He shows the blood-spattered seats. He asks her father about who tried to kill her.

“It’s not a person. It’s an ideology.”

If you doubt that, watch the interview clips with ordinary English-speaking Pakistani men at the end of the film, or visit the page for “He Named Me Malala” on the Internet Movie Database ( Comments and “opinion” for this film reveals how she is hated for speaking out, for defying reactionary Islamic clerics. The Pakistani government caught and tried those it says were responsible for that school bus attack. Then they secretly acquitted them and let them go.

Perhaps Malala should point out that 73% of those fleeing combat zones and begging for asylum in Western countries are young men “of fighting age.” Their failed states are failing because so few of them have the courage she does, to stand up for their rights and resist the minority of armed thugs and their sympathizers.  Her every living breath shames them all. This superficial but entertaining and inspiring movie just compounds that.

3stars2MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats

Cast: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai,
Credits: Directed by Davis Guggenheim. A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:27

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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