Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hours 27 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 2; Language 0; Sex 8/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Pakistani educator and poet Ziauddin Yousafzai has given his oldest child Malala a lot to live up to, this documentary by Davis Guggenheim* asserts. The youngest ever Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai was named after the Afghanistani heroine Malalai of Maiwand, whose words and bearing of a fallen flag helped steel the reserve of her countrymen in 1880 at the Battle of Maiwand when they repelled the invading British who intended to add Afghanistan to their empire. This incident is beautifully depicted in the first of several animated segments of Guggenheim’s film.
Estimated to be between 17 and 19 years of age when she died in battle, Malalai was thus about the same age as Malala when the Nobel Peace Prize Committee elected the latter a co-winner of the 2014 Prize, along with India’s Kailash Sharma, also an advocate for children. Malala’s father himself set a high example for his daughter by his commitment to the education of girls as well as boys, even though, ironically, his wife was a school drop out. For years Mr. Yousafzai has run a number of schools at which girls are as welcome as boys. When the Taliban ruled that girls in the Swat Valley must drop out of school, he spoke out against the order.
The film gives us all the major public facts about this brave girl’s life—her becoming a blogger for the BBC at the suggestion of her father when she was but 12 years old; her speaking out for the rights of girls to go to school at home and abroad; the brutal attempt on her life by the Taliban on her school bus; the frantic operation of doctors to save her life; her transfer to a hospital in Great Britain and her long recovery program; her growing fame and subsequent speaking engagements (one of them at the United Nations on her 16th birthday); and her many journeys to the Middle East and Africa on behalf of the education of girls.
Had the filmmaker dwelt just on the above, he would have been in danger of merely producing a filmed hagiography, but there is far more to this documentary. Filmed over an 18-month period, his camera takes us into the Yousafzai family’s new home in Birmingham, U.K., as well as following daughter and father to the far-flung destinations where Malala adds her voice to others on behalf of the poor and downtrodden. We see her joking with and teasing her two younger brothers. To them, she is a sister, not the iconic figure whose face is recognized all over the world. Often during trips the tired girl leans her head on her father. We are reminded that she is still a teenager as we see her doing homework and helping her mother. She tells us that she has not adopted the dating habits of her new school friends, but she does admit to a crush on Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi and movie star Brad Pitt. All of the family seem well adjusted to their forced exile in England, except for her mother Toor Pekai, who struggles with learning English and has found few friends to replace those she left behind in the Swat Valley.
Several times during the film we see the blood-soaked bus seat where Malala and her two friends were shot. Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, not as badly wounded as Malala, have survived and still live in the same village. Malala longs to return to her friends, but because the Taliban urge that she be shot on sight, this remains an impossible dream.
There is an all too brief clip of Malala’s appearance on The Daily Show, in which she said, “I think I have this opportunity to raise my voice and I believe I’m not just representing only myself but I am speaking up for all girls who are deprived of education. There are about 66 million girls, and I think I’m speaking up for them. Sometimes people do things that it has been forced upon me, or I haven’t chosen this life. But the reality is I have chosen this life.” She re-emphasizes the last line when, apparently to counter the claim that she is solely the product of her father, she says, “My father gave me the name Malala; I made Malala.”
It is a delightful irony of history that the misogynist fanatics who tried to silence her brave voice actually propelled her from a regional stage onto the world stage where millions who might not have heard of her have been inspired by her courage and supported her cause. I hope too that the film will counter the slanders against Islam spread by too many Americans, including some who call themselves Christian: on The Daily Show Malala expressed her anger at the way the Taliban have mistreated women and thus “tarnished the beautiful face of Islam.” This is one more of those “movies that matter”—by all means get a group together to watch and discuss the important issues it raises.
Note: In the On-line TIME for Sept. 9 Malala has an op ed entitled “Malala: The World’s Response to Refugees Has Been Pitiful” in which she states:
“Syria’s refugees have committed no crime that justifies their suffering. They are doing what anyone would do if their home were no longer safe. I myself know what it is to have to leave your home, when my family was forced to leave our home in Swat Valley because of conflict and terrorism in 2009. We lived for three months as internally displaced people (IDPs). That is quite a short time compared to many refugees — but I know very well how hard it is to live like that, and how desperate is the desire of parents to find a safe place for their children to call home.”
And to think, the terrorist’s bullets might have robbed us of her voice!
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Oct. issue of VP.