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Friday, November 27, 2015

HE NAMED ME MALALA Reduces a Compelling Story to a Hallow One

Anytime I think about HE NAMED ME MALALA, I keep hearing Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront say, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody!" Because this documentary on Pakistani Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai should have been great. I mean, the amazing story was already there. The now 18-year-old has become an international icon for human and education rights advocacy through her own harrowing experience that propelled her to fight even harder. All director Davis Guggenheim really had to do was shoot it. But instead, the film became a distorted mess. 

Never mind that much of the story is told in animation for a reason I don't understand. I can only assume that Guggenheim wanted to appeal to younger audiences, but it doesn't translate well and it also belittles the audience it is trying to include in this depiction. What I found particularly disappointing, though, is the angle of the narrative. The film focuses on how men view Yousafzai's celebrity: many who think she is a fabricated model created by her own father (who is in almost as many scenes as her), men who think she's overrated and who have even wished her harm. Few women and girls are represented in the film, and even when we do hear from Yousafzai, she is often talking about being her father's daughter and how he is her rock. We don't hear her voice, which is a huge detriment. She is one of the most inspirational young women ever, yet HE NAMED ME MALALA relies on a third party to tell her story. What a shame.

I wanted to know more about what life is like now for Yousafzai, having lived through a devastation that many of us may never face; and more of a narrative about the event that changed her life, the state of Swat Valley (her native area in Pakistan), and how it feels to be essentially told she is a fraud (this is touched on in the film, but Yousafzai tries to act unfazed by the question).

HE NAMED ME MALALA feels really impersonal (despite Guggenheim's attempts to eek out an engaging film), and it does her story a major disservice as it succumbs to the male perspective it tries--and fails--to denounce.

Rating: C- (** out of *****)


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