Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
He Named Me Malala
Malala, as she is known, has been much in the news and rightly so. Recently, she appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Her Nobel Peace Prize awarded at 16, was incredible enough, but she disarmed the audience with her quirky humor and her elaborate and teasing card trick.
The appearance was important. It showed Malala Yousafzai as a giddy and open youngster, full of fun, not only as a serious activist or a symbol of righteousness. In short, Malala is a person of flesh and blood, very human and easily relatable.
This accessibility is evident in the documentary "He Named Me Malala" by Davis Guggenheim.
Malala's father, a school owner and poet, named her after Malalai, a female Afghan freedom fighter who died during the Battle of Maiwand. Like her namesake, Malala was destined to be fearless and outspoken. At age 11, in Pakistan, she started her own blog and spoke out for girl's education. She gave TV interviews. The Taliban threatened her with death and shot her at 14 years old.
This comprehensive film shows Malala as steadfast and driven but also able to laugh as a kid at heart. She is fond of playfully slapping her brother, Khushal. Together the two look at websites and oogle at Roger Federer. Otherwise, she works on a speech.
Though iron-willed and determined, Malala's other self exists throughout: a being of lightness and color as symbolized by her bright hijab. Her schedule is restless and relentless as she spans the globe. After the shooting, Malala relocated to Britain. She is clearly tickled and a bit intimidated. A mixture of emotions. Malala yearns to return to Pakistan to see her house, but is afraid of a lethal retailiation.
The content of this film is brisk, vivid and informative with lots of telling detail. However, the sequence of events do zip a bit too rapidly back and forth, oscillating between the present day, 2013, 2011 and then back to the present, making the story choppy, dreamlike and somewhat hard to follow.
Malala's father is well in evidence here, yet her mother is a cypher, and nearly anonymous. This is strange, given that the film is about women under a toxic threat with the power of change. One wants for more.
Gradually the narrative emerges as an all too anxious and dangerous story as Malala makes event after dizzying event, with the Taliban bombing schools and threatening death to girls anywhere if they choose an education.
Insidiously, we see young men and women discredit and dismiss Malala (the youngest Nobel recepient in history) as a manipulated fiction. This is as heartbreaking as it is Orwellian and scary.
Periodically, the film is perfectly accented by haunting animation, which makes Malala's thoughts into concrete images of colored sand. Most evocative by far, is the concept of a speaking voice igniting swirls of fire that tumble and roll into Islamic calligraphy. A falling or defeated voice creates black birds or sorrowful ashes in its wake.
Despite her battles with a philosophic enemy, she springs ahead as a proud Muslim woman in favor of education. Malala is no karmic fatalist. More proactively, as stressed in "He Named Me Malala", she conjures her own luck that is as resillient and organic as a jasmine flower.
Wrestling with life, Malala ultimately made it through. As she says, "My father only named me, but I made my choice."
Thus, Malala is an existentialist in the most positive of senses and continues on.
Write Ian at email@example.com