Review: ‘Malala’: Life surrounded by questions

Tom Long
The Detroit News

On the surface, “He Named Me Malala” is your basic inspirational portrait, an uplifting look at the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for advocating women’s education and who later won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) perhaps consciously leaves all sorts of questions hanging. While Malala’s saintly status is front and center, there are lingering, disquieting and incomplete issues all over the place.

Malala was named by her education activist father for a mythic teen girl figure who led warriors on a battlefield and then died in the righteous fight. In the film, her father refers to the two of them as two bodies with the same soul. The film also has footage of Pakistanis who outright charge her father with manipulating Malala into near martyrdom.

Malala and her family now live in England. There’s no mention of how they are supported, or who pays for Malala’s globetrotting (in the film she visits Nigeria, Syria and the United States). In England, she is at best a mediocre student (it’s unclear if this has to do with language) and something of a social outcast. At 17, she giggles nervously at the idea of a boyfriend. At the very least she’s a girl caught between two cultures.

Which brings a certain sadness to the proceedings. Guggenheim humanizes Malala, showing her as a teenager with two absurdly cute younger brothers, a girl who likes ogling hot athletes on the Internet and revels in card tricks. But as much as she proclaims her love for her activist life, and as funny as she can be, you feel the weight of expectations and limitations hanging over her young, brave life.

‘He Named Me Malala’


Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats

Running time: 87 minutes