17 April 2016

Documentary Review: He Named Me Malala

Documentary Review: He Named Me Malala
The hour and a half long documentary entitled He Named Me Malala, produced by David Guggenheim and released on the 2nd of October 2015, opens with a Pashtun tale which Malala Yousafzai's father re-told to his wife's rounded tummy when she was pregnant with his daughter.

The tale's protagonist finds herself on the battlefield between two nations- England and Afghanistan. The folklore teaches that the teenager observes, in dismay, that the Afghan warriors in defeat and in a down-trodden state running away from the scene of the  Maiwand battle. The loss of hope for the Aghan troops was tangible, according to the narrative. The young, courageous girl supposedly trekked up the towering mountain which stood surveying the battle ground below. The young Pashtun girl raised her voice so that all the fighters across the clash of the two nations could hear her. The teenager encouragingly spoke up saying that "It is better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for a 100 years". Afghanistan, lead by the vociferous teenager, came to defeat England and lead them into a spirited victory. The initiator of hope, courage and light amongst the darkness of war was later shot and killed in the very battle which her commanding words helped to win. Her name was Malalai.

The correlation between Malalai of Maiwand and the story of Malala Yousafzai's life thus far is striking. Globally, the latter Malala is a house-hold name. In 2012, the oldest of the Yousafzai children was shot in the forehead whilst in her classroom (although further research online states that the teenager was indeed shot on a bus on her way back home from writing a test at school). A Taliban militant walked into the room, according to the documentary, where Malala was present and simply said "Where is Malala?". When all the fearful eyes in the room turned towards the young teenager from the Swat Valley, the trigger was pulled.

Malala with her father in England
1. Malala Yousafzai in hospital, shown from left with her oldest brother, her father Ziauddin and her youngest brother.
The documentary shows that a BBC reporter went from door to door asking girls, in particular, from the Swat Valley to speak up about their feelings towards their every-day life. Many shut their doors in fear of what the consequences would be-not only on themselves but on their families. Quite controversially, it was Malala's father, Ziauddin, who had put his daughter's name forward. Under the pseudonym of Gul Makai, Malala wrote about her every day experiences, once writing that "...there is no peace" which accurately reflected her hometown,which was once a paradise. Eventually, Malala emerged from the shadows and the protection which the pseudonym offered her and put her face and birth-given name out for all to see- including the Taliban. Her voice grew louder, her support grew stronger and people's ears became sharper to the issues which the young Yousafzai was expressing.

Malala, who is described as being "addicted to books" by her younger brother was an avid reader from early on- an influence from her Father, who started his own school in Swat Valley. Malala grew up around education and believes in equal rights with a particular focus on girls owning the right to attend school. The young activist realized  "the importance of a voice when there is silence" a sentiment echoed at her speech to the United Nations on the 12th of July 2013, only 9 months after being shot.

What struck me throughout the documentary is Malala Yousafzai in her home environment.She is unexpectedly an 'ordinary' teenager. Now living in Birmingham, England, after moving from the Swat Valley, a couple miles away from Pakistan's Capital City of Islamabad, Malala is shown bickering playfully with her two younger brothers, with remarks such as "naughty" aimed in the young activists's direction- which is immediately contested followed by bouts of laughter. Malala's younger brothers claim that she is "violent" but the oldest of the three siblings jokingly comments that it is all done "as a sign of love".

A medium close-up shows Malala teaching her dad how to tweet and post a link on Facebook- which is something many of us in the 'neo-technological' age can relate to. The triumph of a tweet and posting on Facebook is celebrated with the 'clap' of Malala and her father's hands coming together in a 'high-5'. Guggenheim shows Malala at school, interacting with her peers where she admits that she does not share her true self as she is unsure if her fellow teenagers "will like" her or "be interested" in her-which are sentiments shared by teenagers universally without exception. Malala shows the viewer her 73% in a recent Biology test and another test where she achieved 61% in physics. She chuckled in embarrassment at her results (as many teenagers have) but quickly brushed it off by stating that she was not at school on a particular day when a particular section was taught-and points to the affected question in her test. Furthermore, Malala harbors feelings of doubt when it comes to understanding her "new society and (its) new rules"- which many adults and youth a-like can relate to when placed in a new environment.

My take on the documentary and its central figure:

To begin with, the cinematography in the documentary was well-balanced. Hearing the voices of so many people involved in Malala's story added many perspectives to the biography. The stills of a decimated Swat Valley narrated asynchronously by those who were affected by its destruction the most added a very personal note to the documentary. At one point, cross-cuts of blood splatter on the side panels of trucks really drives home the reality of the documentary. This war is at a cost. It has done immeasurable  damage on so many families- just like Malala's.

2.  "The vivid tints and tones of warm scarlet reds or oranges
 like the sun was to me a statement to the Taliban"

A noticeable pattern in Malala's clothing, in my opinion, throughout the filming of the documentary was the opulence and saturation of her colourful hijab and loose-fitting dresses. Colour is a symbol. The vivid tints and tones of warm scarlet reds or oranges like the sun was to me a statement to the Taliban.  It is a sense of triumph. It states, boldly, that the Taliban cannot take away Malala Yousafzais happy sense of nature. 
She is going to shine and conquer and make people hear her voice. And no one-or no thing-can stop her.

So often I have been angry towards people or a situation-which upon reflection were petty. Malala possesses no fury toward the man who shot her. Her father states that his daughter was not shot by a single man, but rather "an ideology". Malala continues that her anger cannot be compared to the smallness of "an atom, or maybe a nucleus of an atom or maybe a proton"- which is a statement that made me chuckle as I have recently studied the Periodic Table at school. Malala tells the camera that "Islam teaches us humanity. equality and forgiveness" which is a statement which had me hitting pause on the documentary. The recent acts of terror which have plagued Europe, Turkey, Syria and Kenya among many other countries are supposedly done in the name of Islam.  How can a religion dictated by three of the most positive values, in my opinion, be skewed to encourage acts of killing and torture?

The documentary ends with Malala's words that "my father only gave me my name, Malala. He didn't make me Malala. I chose this life. It was not forced onto me. I chose this life and I must continue it."

One of Time Magazine '100 most influential people in the world' goes on to say that "I tell my story not because it is unique...but because it is not."

Malala's voice does not represent a lone voice; Her globally recognized strong yet sweet voice represents a chorus of 66 million voices which are growing louder and louder.

I was aware of the name Malala Yousafzai for a long time and had foolishly thought that I was aware of her story. The documentary provides valuable insight into the cause which Malala was almost killed for and the cause which she continues to live for-equality.

I give the documentary 9/10 Stephells and encourage all living bi-pedal organisms (that's you, humans) to watch it.

If you have already feasted your eyes upon Malala's incredible story (either in text or on screen), please do let me know your thoughts.

Till next time-

Sources in order of appearence:


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