He Named Me Malala

Malala Yousafazai is an extraordinary young woman and she deserves a bit better than this syrupy documentary by Davis Guggenheim.

Her story is one of survival and determination. She has brought world attention to a situation that resulted in her being shot in the head by the Taliban in a Pakistani village on the way to school. “It wasn’t a person who shot her,” says her equally remarkable father Ziauddin. “It was an ideology.”

Guggenheim has dealt with forces of nature before, directing Al Gore in the climate change doc An Inconvenient Truth, but Malala is more powerful than any of these. He Named Me Malala *** deserves praise for bringing her a wider audience – as if a best-selling book, a Nobel Prize, a UN conference and a meeting with Bono weren’t enough – and it reconstructs the gradual creep of Taliban rule until the books, CDs and DVDs are burned in the streets and the schools bombed.

But Guggenheim, who reconstructs certain elements of the family’s story with folksy watercolour-type animations, seems way too anxious to point out that Malala is just an ordinary girl. “Although she’s a powerful and influential world leader,” says one conference host, “she’s also doing her GCSEs.” Guggenheim shows her arguing with her little brothers at the family’s new home in Birmingham, England (imagine, the one in Alabama would have been just too amazing…) and worrying about her marks at school.

It’s all a bit patronising, frankly, going for cutesy giggles in a bid to inspire other ordinary girls to speak out and step up. I reckon in her eyes we can even see Malala herself thinking ‘God, this guy’s a bit of a dick’ although she’d be way too cool and classy to say it.

Through all his patronising, Western world, wide-eyed wonder of tut-tutting and pussyfooting, Guggenheim doesn’t nail the real pain or the real power about what drives this tiny woman. He’s like: Taliban bad, some Muslims good, but not sure where I am on veils and women and Allah and stuff like that.

You get the feeling he’s just not telling the whole story – how did they get to Birmingham? why have they got such a big house? where’s the money coming from? how did she write that book? – so not only is his subject worthy of a more intelligent film, so are his audience.