Directed by: David Guggeinheim.
The story of Malala Yousafzai is an important an inspiring one. She is the now 18 year old Pakistani girl, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for the crime of advocating for girls to have access to the same education as boys do, when she was just 15 years old. He survived the horrific attack, and rather than being silenced, she has continued to speak out on behalf of her beliefs – eventually becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history. She still travels the world – giving speeches and interviews, and serves as an inspiration for young girls – and truly anyone – everywhere in the world. She is funny and smart, and charming. Why then is He Named Me Malala, which focuses on this inspiring story, such a bore of a movie?
The film was directed by Davis Guggeinheim, who knows how to make a documentary – his previous films include An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman – two films that also took on important subject matter, and while neither were technically stunning, they presented the material well, and got the important parts of the story out. What both of those films share with He Named Me Malala however is the distinct feeling that they have been made with a classroom setting in mind – that Guggeinheim means to educate you more than anything else. In that sense, I guess, He Named Me Malala does work – my wife wants to show to it to her high school class, and they may well get something out of it. However, if you’re looking for a great documentary, this isn’t it.
The biggest problem seems to be that Guggeinheim never really presses Malala to say anything she hasn’t already said in countless interviews. The film does get a few moments of her being a normal kid at home – and going through the same stuff every teenager does at school – wondering if others will like her, etc. You sense a few times Guggeinheim trying to push – to get Malala to address maybe some more controversial topics, or address her more outspoken critics, etc. – but he backs off quickly. Like many people who have gotten use to fame, and the press, Malala is skilled at shutting down questions she does not want to answer – and Guggeinheim respects that. There are worse things you can say about a filmmaker than that he was too respectful of an 18 year old Nobel Peace Prize winner – but it does hurt the documentary a little bit.
In short, if you know nothing about Malala, than you probably should watch the film – just to hear her extraordinary story. If, however, you do know it – there’s really not much else here. The best documentaries about public figures shine a light on them, and let you see them in a different way. This is not one of those films.