Review: ‘He Named Me Malala’ disappoints

Malala Yousafszai is a young activist and Nobel Laureate who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan. In Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary, “He Named Me Malala,” based on her memoir “I am Malala,” you’ll get to see this girl in an intimate light, but is that light correct?

Gugenheim focuses the documentary on three different timelines altogether to not only discuss Malala, but her family as well. The present day timeline focuses on your typical scenes of Malala leading a pretty normal life. The second is a timeline where she is a global education activist and pushing for girls to be educated. The third timeline is animated, and discusses how Malala got her name. Apparently the origins of Malala come from an Afgani Fable of a young woman who raised her voice to inspire a nation. The name is given to her by her father who is outspoken and wants his daughter to be independent.

Malala, as a teenager, makes the choice to become a critic of the Taliban’s practices in her hometown of the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The Taliban responds to her activism by bombing more schools and spreading a broad message of woman not needing education. Even in the face of certain danger, Malala wouldn’t relent and that act of heroism is one of the most inspiring acts by a teenager, period. Gugenheim’s attempt at using the intertwined storyline is appreciated because the audience develops a stronger understanding about Malala.

However, Gugenheim’s intentions behind this documentary become crystal clear as He Named Me Malala is reality nothing more than a puff piece. Documentaries are meant to not only inform the audience, but push the subject matter forward. For example, In Amy, the brilliance of the documentary is not the subject matter (Amy Winehouse) but that it questioned darkest alleys of fame. He Named Me Malala is nothing more than a biography about the life Malala and will confuse and bewilder audiences.

Did David Gugenheim not see what was so painfully obvious to the audience members? Why didn’t the director focus He Named Me Malala on the need for furthering Woman’s education? This decision is a strange decision from David Gugenheim, a talented documentarian who has already won an Oscar for his work on An Inconvienient Truth. The Director opted to shy away from focusing on a hot button issue such as woman’s education, and instead gave us a general retelling of Malala’s life.

In the end, Malala Yousafszai is an inspiring subject to build a documentary around but the final product is lackluster regurgitation.

He Named Me Malala
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.