Malala Yousafzai was named after a girl who spoke out and was killed for doing it. The folk hero was a teenager who perished in 1880 while rallying fellow Pashtun resistance fighters to a victory over British invaders in a pivotal battle of the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
After choosing this significant name for his daughter, Malala’s father inscribed it into his family tree which was unusual because, until then, no females had been mentioned in his genealogy that stretches back several centuries. Furthermore, her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, resolved to raise his daughter in such a way that she would see herself as the equal of any boy.
While such an approach might be unremarkable in the West, it was heretical in the Swat District of Pakistan, which was a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in the late 20th century. During Malala’s formative years much of the country was terrorized by the Taliban, which was blowing up any schools that admitted girls.
In defiance of their mullah’s absolute mandate against education for females, Mr. Yousafzai not only allowed his daughter to matriculate, but also spurred her to speak out online as an equal rights advocate blogger. This only infuriated Mullah Fazlullah who issued a fatwa (religious decree) against her over the radio. This led to an assassination attempt on her by one of the mullah’s followers as she was riding on a school bus.
Fortunately, Malala, who was just 15 at the time, managed to survive the bullet wound to her brain. As she lay in the hospital, her parents had no idea whether their daughter would ever even be able to walk or talk again.
She did eventually emerge from the coma, although she was deaf in one ear and needed months and months of rehabilitation. Initially, she blamed her father for her plight, since he was the one who had encouraged her activist streak. “I am a child,” she said, “You are my father. You should have stopped me. What happened to me is because of you.”
Eventually her health was substantially restored, and she became a stoic and serene symbol of resistance to radical Islam. With continued death threats hanging over their heads, the Yousafzai family (including Malalal’s mother and two younger brothers) resettled in England where she would become a champion of oppressed females everywhere.
Directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim.(An Inconvenient Truth), He Named Me Malala is an engaging biopic that describes the close father-daughter relationship which enabled Malala to flourish in the midst of intolerance. Their tender interplay is enhanced by animated interludes which further intensify the sincere sentiments that are displayed on screen.
The picture shows Malala’s emergence as an international icon, that culminates with her becoming the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The movie is a powerful portrait that illustrates the indomitability of the human spirit and is easily the best film of 2015 thus far!
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for death threats, mature themes, and disturbing images. Running time: 87 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures. He Named Me Malala opened in select theaters on October 2nd and will be shown in over 2,000 theaters starting October 9th.