Friday, October 09, 2015

"He Named Me Malala": biography of one of the world's most accomplished teens, shows life as it is in the Muslim world


He Named Me Malala” (2015), by Davis Guggenheim, is a very visual biography of Malala Yousafzai, now 18, the young woman who survived a targeted Taliban member’s bullet to the forehead on October 9, 2012, near her family in the Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan (“The Land of the Pure”).  It’s remarkable how thoroughly she recovered medically from all the surgeries in Britain, with hearing loss on one side, but without any visible impairment or obvious scars. The movie is based on her book “I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban”, published by Little Brown in the US, written with Chris Lamb.

The narrative of the movie switches between her present-day life in Britain, and return trips to Pakistan, as well as to Nigeria, Kenya, and the Syria-Jordan border, and an animated narrative of the events that led to her assassination attempt. She had blogged about education, especially for young women, for the BBC since about age 12, with the help of her activist father.

The scenes in present day Swat Valley are quite realistic, showing everyday life in an area most westerners could never safely visit.  The buildings look ramshackle, with a mixture of brick, plaster and clapboard.  The film is shot 1.85:1, but looks fine on a large-format screen.  

Before the assassination, the Taliban had become gradually more aggressive, with book burnings reminiscent of the Nazis and even entering people’s homes to take TV’s and burn them. We can say this is about ideology, as that in turn equates to meaning for relatively poor people. But it was also mainly about power and control. It seems that in the world of radical Islam, women should not be educated because learning could reduce their sexual availability to men to give them more children.  Psychologically, this all seems quite crude.  Why would someone who was weak and powerless be sexually attractive?  To me, that doesn’t make any sense, but I am so dependent on “upward affiliation”.

But the film is effective in large part because it doesn't over-dwell on "feminism" or "equality" in a politically correct fashion for the West, but presents life as it is in Pakistan and several other difficult places. 
   
Malala visits Nigeria to meet with families affected by Boko Haram, and also meets refugees leaving Syria for Jordan.  It would seem that Mr. Guggenheim would be likely to take up the refugee crisis for another documentary movie.

Malala also wins the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.  She is perhaps the planet’s most accomplished teenager (although she could be compared in drive and accomplishment to Jack Andraka, Sept. 7, 2014.


The official site is here (Fox Searchlight).

I saw the film in the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA Friday afternoon.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Swat Valley  by Syed Najib Ullah, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 4.0 license.


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