It’s easy to take education for granted. Between the hefty price tags on textbooks, teachers forgetting to post your grades on D2L and trudging through the snow and slush of a Wisconsin winter in the vain hopes of getting to class on time can quickly wear on your patience and make you forget why you’re going to school in the first place.
But did you know that, as of 2013, “Nearly 70 million children around the world today cannot get a basic education,” and that “More than half are girls,” according to ABC News? The site also says that “A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult,” and that “Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to marry as children.” Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
But there is hope for all 70 million of those children. And it’s here in the form of 18 year old Malala Yousafzai.
He Named Me Malala, directed by Davis Guggenheim, chronicles the life of Malala from her humble beginnings to her Earth-shaking activism. While the storytelling can be unpolished at times, the story itself and its message still rings clear.
Throughout the film, we get to see everything that has made Malala the powerful force that she is. The movie employs powerful imagery from radio clips of Taliban propaganda to footage of schools being blown up and other visceral images that make us realize what Malala is up against. And it makes Malala’s determination all the more amazing.
We also get to see the influence of Malala’s family. There’s an especially moving part involving her father where, despite his stutter, is inspired to pursue public speaking. He eventually became a powerful activist himself, which was no doubt instilled by Malala.
Malala’s family also plays a part in the documentary’s narrative peaks and valleys. Some of the more touching scenes in the film involve Malala’s family joking around, bickering, and being like any other family. Not only do the scenes provide a cooldown after more harrowing moments, but also makes us realize just how similar everyone around the world is. It’s easy to regard people in other countries as the “out-group”, but while our cultures and some of our values can divide us, our values and traditions of family all unite us.
While there is plenty of imagery from current events, the story also dips back into the past, which is told not just through family photos, but through sweeping, painterly animation evocative of the Oscar-nominated The Dam Keeper. From these scenes, we see a young Malala pretending to lecture in front of an empty classroom in her father’s makeshift school to how her mother never received education and how Malala got her name, further contributing to Malala’s character while doing so in an engaging way.
But while the documentary tells a powerful story, it could’ve had a bit more polish. The documentary starts immediately after Malala was shot and sent to a British hospital and jumps around from the past to the present constantly. While the film still has a mostly even narrative curve, the continuously shifting mood can make everything a bit disorienting.
Certain moments get a bit overused for their functions. The cute scenes involving the family and the footage of schools blowing up become especially worn out, and their constant use to lower and raise the tension respectively become almost formulaic.
Never the less, He Named Me Malala still succeeds in communicating not only how Malala became who she is now, but how she became an icon for equality and education through its careful selection of effective scenes and mostly elegant narrative pacing. Through Malala, we see how powerful an educated mind can be even when facing grave danger. She teaches us that those who rule by forcing fear and ignorance are the real cowards, and that it takes true bravery to lead with compassion and understanding. While her story deserves more polished storytelling, it still remains uncompromised in its impact.
He Named Me Malala will be opening on October 9th at the Oriental Theatre.