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One of a Kind: ‘He Named Me Malala’

One of a Kind: ‘He Named Me Malala’

Hollywood hype-masters use the word “inspiring” to sell
movies to us all the time, but this new documentary from Davis Guggenheim
trumps anything Hollywood could invent, because it focuses on a young woman who
is genuinely inspiring. Now all of 18 years old, Malala Yousafzai is a
remarkable human being: she survived a shooting by a Pakistani death squad but
bears no grudge against her would-be assassins. She has become an outspoken
advocate for education, especially for girls, around the world. She is about to
enter college. And she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Guggenheim
opens his film with an animated prologue that introduces us to her namesake; a
celebrated Pakistani heroine led her loyal troops into battle in 1880. By
giving her that name, Malala’s father Ziauddin set the bar high for his only
daughter and she has exceeded his expectations with courage and conviction. But
when we first meet her, she is teasing her two brothers, a reminder that even a
girl who has achieved worldwide fame is still a teenager in the everyday world.

This portrait
of Malala and her influential father skips back and forth in time, showing us
what happened that fateful day in 2012 when assassins attacked her school bus
and shot her, as well as two of her friends. We learn how her father trod his
own path as a teacher and public speaker and passed along a love of learning to
his daughter. And we travel around the globe with Malala as she speaks out on
behalf of girls and women everywhere who deserve a decent education.

The
filmmaker’s decision to use animation, designed by Jason Carpenter, pays off in
a series of handsome sequences that fill in blanks where no footage could
possibly exist.

Not many
documentaries can boast a score by a composer as prominent as Thomas Newman,
who takes his cues from the emotional triggers on screen. At 87 minutes the
film never wears out its welcome, and Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of
An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman, makes no pretense
of being objective or aloof about his subject here. It would be difficult, if
not impossible, to be unmoved by Malala’s story, as well as her remarkable poise
and eloquence. All of that is reflected in this straightforward and winning
film.

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