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He Named Me Malala: an inspiring and intimate portrait of Malala Yousafzai


This summer for her eighteenth birthday Malala Yousafzai decided to open a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. Yet filmmaker Davis Guggenheim insists his latest documentary subject is just an ordinary teenager. 

“She worries about her physics test. Sometimes she doesn’t do well. She goes on the internet and looks at [famous] people.” 

In the same breath, he reminds us that she can press a sitting American president about drone strikes. “There’s a lot of famous, strong, powerful men, that won’t ask Obama that question. She really believes that if you raise your voice, you can do extraordinary things.” 

Malala behind the scenes

In He Named Me Malala, Guggenheim, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker (An Inconvenient Truth), followed the then 15-year-old and her family on the road as she campaigned for girls’ education. The director also spent endless hours with the Yousafzai family at home, capturing interviews and footage as they adjusted to their new life in England.

“They arm wrestle, they tease each other, they have petty fights. But they also have tough conversations just like my family does,” said Guggenheim. 

Malala became a global ambassador after she was shot in the head in a targeted attack by the Taliban because she was advocating for girls’ education in Pakistan. That event would catapult her onto the world stage.

“Malala was just a girl in this small town in Swat Valley, Pakistan. But she saw something she loved being threatened, she saw her school being threatened, and she spoke out. She used her voice.” 

Despite being the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate in history and an author of a best-selling novel, the film gives a glimpse into the everyday life of Malala. It also sheds light on her close relationship with her father, Ziauddin, a former schoolteacher and activist who would influence his daughter to speak out.

‘Not just a movie — it’s a movement’

Guggenheim said he hopes the film will inspire young girls who might question if they can make a difference in the world. 

“That’s my hope with this movie, that it’s not just a movie — it’s a movement.”

As a father of two girls, the director said he felt a personal connection to Malala’s story.

“They live in Los Angeles, they’ve got safe schools, but I worry will they have the confidence to speak out the way this girl in Pakistan speaks out?”

CBC | Arts News