He Named Me Malala Film Review

Film Review by Jarred Tito & Mel Tan
He Named Me Malala

The Premise
A look at the events leading up to the Taliban's attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls' education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations.

The Review
I was very thankful to have made it for the beginning of this movie as it turned out to be pivotal for the rest of the movie. It laid the foundation for the story – the incredible story – of Malala. On face value, this documentary could have stood alone as a news interest story but it did much more than just capture our thoughts with news headlines. It captured not just the mind with the events, but our hearts.

The film starts with the legendary story of Malalai, a historic figure – but carries the weight of a legend or myth. She namelessly led a revolt against injustice, and had such a strong influence on Malala’s father that it inspired him to name his daughter after her. The film takes us well and truly into the minds and hearts of this Pakistani family, where we see both her public profile and family merged seamlessly into one.

Although there are scenes that appear to be re-enactments, the film doesn’t indulge itself in the drama behind the shooting that Malala is famous for, but instead focuses on who she is now, which is very much a champion advocate for female education.

The film starts with a stirring animation about this historical figure Malalai, which in itself is spectacular, pulling on heartstrings and art-strings, threading itself through the whole documentary serving as a reminder of the strong influence her father has on Malala; which in my mind was such a beautiful part of the movie. I found myself captivated by the simple honesty of Malala, her father’s daughter; Malala, the sister of two younger brothers; and Malala, the political figure. This documentary has done something that so few documentaries have done in recent times – which is to move you to do something for developing countries while at the same time feel pain for this individual as a victim of the Taliban – and then over and above that, to stand to your feet and applaud the bravery of this individual. The film really does inspire quite strongly on those three levels. I have often been inspired artistically by documentaries, or been moved in a political way, and I felt empathy in others. But seldom have I felt all three at once.

Although the public life of Malala came as a result of a public attempt on her life, which gave her international fame – this film doesn’t focus on that particular event. Rather, it focuses on her and her dream of seeing women from all around the world receive equal rights to education, which is really the backbone of this documentary. 

Director David Guggenheim has successfully portrayed Malala; her father, who was and is very influential in her life; her family and her cause in an honest and down to earth way which left me thinking, is this real, could this really have happened? This young girl, on the brink of death, who is now sharing the stage with Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, the Queen, but stays young the whole time? There are some lovely lighter moments in spite of the subject matter. Moments with her younger brothers are priceless in their pure innocence and openness, which is very grounding. I found myself liking Malala, who would otherwise have been just a headline news story to me.

The Verdict
Expect to be moved when you see this documentary. You’ll be laughing one moment and crying the next. I left the theatre feeling empowered by her message, while at the same time feeling the pain of her journey. This is a story of peace and purpose, of opposition and victory, of adversity and advocacy, that you cannot help but feel a part of when you are watching this. On a personal note, this movie has been to date the most inspiring documentary I can remember in a long time. If you want to see something moving and meaningful, you will not be disappointed. He Named Me Malala has got to be one of the most important films that you will see this year.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 5th November 2015
Rating: PG
Duration: 88 minutes 
Genre:  Documentary
Starring: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai
Director: Davis Guggenheim (From the Sky Down)

The Extras
In 2014, Malala Yousafzai was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. The Norwegian Academy awarded them the prize "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education" At the age of 17, Malala became the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Prize.

On the afternoon of 9 October 2012, Yousafzai boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. One bullet hit the left side of Yousafzai's forehead, travelled under her skin through the length of her face, and then went into her shoulder.


The name Malala is a variant of Malalai, which means "sad, grieved" in Pashto. This was the name of a Pashtun woman who encouraged the Afghan forces during the 1880 Battle of Maiwand against the British. Another bearer of this name is Malalai Joya (born 1978), an activist, writer, and a former politician from Afghanistan.