Monday, September 24The Voice of London

Review: He Named Me Malala

The documentary tells the story of Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, who, after surviving a gunshot from the Taliban, emerged determined to provide education to children all over the world. It also makes the audience reflect on the western privilege of education.

Words: Alina Kay, Subeditor: Jason John


Director Davis Guggenheim, who won an Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth, tells the astonishing story of a young Pakistani girl’s life, but also contextualises the journey of how this ordinary girl became the role model, activist and inspiration she is today.

The documentary effectively tells the story of two girls named Malala.

It explores why Ziauddin Yousafzai, a Pakistani anti-Taliban activist, named his daughter after an Afghan freedom fighter – and how the name subsequently shaped her life.

By using clever animation techniques, it occasionally reflects on the life of  Malalai, an 18th-century Afghan girl who encouraged her people to fight during the second Anglo-Afghan war, very much like his daughter is inspiring girls all over the world now.

But the film also makes it clear that Ziauddin himself played an inevitably large role in shaping of her character.

Malala Yousafzai, who went on to become the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner, was very much an ordinary girl – a bit awkward, a bit shy, but very brave and determined to make a change.

The film is a yet another reminder of how western feminism fails non-privileged, non-white women and girls. This was even more evident in the interview that, dare I say, the UK’s most prominent feminist, Emma Watson, conducted with Malala at the opening of the Into Film festival on November 4.

Malala said she admired Watson for her work – but the life of this young girl from Swat Valley cannot, surely, be compared to Watson’s privileged background.

For no matter how hard we try, people in the West can never truly understand the struggle Malala went through.

Malala’s and Emma’s feminism is different on many levels: Watson only started fighting for women’s rights after finding fame through Harry Potter, whilst Yousafzai was speaking out even before the Taliban attack, which she survived, and with new force and, no doubt, help from the west, continued her fight for children’s rights.

He Named Me Malala is a wake-up call and a true reminder why Emma Watson’s feminism just does not work outside the West. Children deprived of education need Malala and not Watson. And this film is a powerful tool to make us, westerns, reflect on that.

The good: effective storytelling, cinematography, music & graphics.

The bad: a bit too scripted for a documentary.

The film can be seen in Picturehouses across London, as well as Odeon and Cineworld.

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

IMDB: 6.2

Metacritic: 61%

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