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★★★✩✩

He Named Me Malala

Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Starring Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai, Khushal Khan Yousafzai, Atal Khan Yousafzai

Rated PG-13

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala. This 18-year-old girl is known as an activist who speaks up for female education and equality. After learning the importance of education through her parents, who ran several schools in Pakistan, she blogged for the BBC and stressed educational equality to the public. She survived a shooting by the Taliban at the age of 15.

The documentary movie He Named Me Malala attempts to reveal the individual at an intimate level through interviews with her and her family. During a press conference, director Davis Guggenheim explained how he hoped to get to know the person Malala: without a camera and purely through conversation.

Malala is more or less like any other person; she plays a role as a daughter, a sister, an immigrant, and a student. That is clearly depicted through Malala’s everyday life. However, when it comes to other topics, like the Pakistanis claiming that Malala is fabricated and that her stances and persona are unoriginal, the movie remains ambivalent on the complicated issues behind her. Whether Malala’s belief is fully independent from her father’s, as many ask, is left an enigma.

The briefly revealed, ordinary aspect of Malala (as opposed to her charismatic persona) is not disappointing. It is rather interesting to the public. Her persistence, humbleness, and humor all in one package in the form of her unique three-dimensional identity are a pleasant surprise to the viewer. But the movie fails to dig deeper into how Malala’s character and motivation relate to what she has achieved.

Malala occasionally shies away from expressing her thoughts and feelings, even during the interviews in which the interviewer and the public want to know her as a person. Often, she answers “I don’t know” with a little shrug. She seems to be well rehearsed for public speeches but not so much for personal interviews. Because hardly any of the conversations goes deeper than Malala’s superficial answers, the movie becomes repetitive and obvious.

During a Q&A session, Guggenheim discussed his vision in making the film. He felt there was something powerful to the shocking and captivating work that Malala has done. Guggenheim said that he was so drawn by Malala’s idea of being courageous that he wanted to understand what created Malala’s courage and what it took to do this. But I am not sure if Guggenheim has found the answers to his questions and if he has delivered what he discovered.

On the bright side, the movie achieves the goal of sounding a positive note for humanity. Malala is willing to lose whatever she must as long as she can demand equal education in the world. She is not afraid of the cost that she has to pay for her beliefs. “It doesn’t matter if I can’t smile or blink properly,” Malala stated, valuing humanity and forgiveness over her personal comfort. She even points out that she tells her story not because her life or view is unique, but rather because it is shared by everyone.

Perhaps the full resolution of this 18-year-old’s character and heart is too rich to be captured in a single film. This movie defers our hope to get to know Malala better.