Malala Yousafzai is one of the most influential female figures in the world right now, an ordinary Pakistani teenager who stood up to the Taliban about girls’ right to an education and was shot on a school bus as a result, along with a couple of close friends.

This is meant to be Malala’s film – and it is to an extent, directed by Davis Guggenheim who brought us the terrifying and affecting documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (2006), following Al Gore’s campaign trail to raise public awareness about global warming. Hence, her tale ought to be in good filmmaking hands.

While Malala’s strength and remarkable story are undeniably compelling, Guggenheim ‘s film lacks a more enriching ‘personal account’. It feels more like a polished piece of campaign material with lots of news clippings than an intimate portrayal, which you are expecting. You don’t feel any more informed about Malala herself than you did. The film trailer feels like a tease with hindsight.

At the very beginning, we discover through narration and one of the many animations in the film that young Yousafzai was named after a famous Afghan poetess and warrior called ‘Malala’. This opening sequence is a nice touch. Subsequent illustrations begin to feel too twee and borderline pretentious, even though the parts of the story need to be told and a talking head on camera may not be the best solution either.

The majority who will view this film know Malala’s story already, as it was headline news in October 2012. Even more will know about her going on to win the Nobel Peace Price at 17 last year, after ‘missing out’ the previous year, and her campaigning. The film’s strongest parts are the family moments – including on-camera interviews with her comic little brother, proving kids say the funniest things in all sincerity.

Although Malala has a grace and inner poise to greatly admire, coupled with a natural warmth and wicked sense of humour (as we discover), the film-makers could have got further under her skin to reveal more about her desires, what drives her, her family relationships, and what makes that network and support so valuable and nurturing. There is a far more interesting subplot about Malala’s mother and her education that is touched on but not fully explored that would have given a greater insight into Malala’s development, rather than coming at it from the father angle.

And yet, in spite of the fact the above criticisms suggest an overall disappointment with the film’s execution, it still should be show to every school-age child as a source of education and inspiration. Ironically, it feels like a PR package ready for just that purpose rather than a personal account like A Syrian Love Story, say, especially as Malala has had to flee her home, a small town in the Swat Valley in north-west Pakistan.

We certainly now know why she was named Malala, but do we know anything more about the girl who is a beacon of hope, short of a few giggly girlie crushes? Malala is an awesome character in a film that feels mediocre and unsurprising, and much like a party political broadcast at times. A great shame, really.

He Named Me Malala
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Fierce film reviewer and former BFI staffer, Lisa is partial to any Jack Nicholson flick. She also masquerades as a broadcast journalist, waiting for the day she can use her Criminology & Criminal Justice-trained mind like a female Cracker.
he-named-me-malala-reviewMalala is an awesome character in a film that feels mediocre and unsurprising, and much like a party political broadcast at times. A great shame, really.