Malala Yousafzai was just 14 when she survived an assassination attempt in 2012 after her calls for equal rights and education for girls angered militants in Pakistan. In this complete and compelling portrait, directed by Academy Award winning director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”), we learn more about this young girl, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was determined to defy the odds.
Thorough and involving, music and animation emphasize most of the messages of this documentary, which was filmed over 18 months that Guggenheim spent with the Yousafzai family in the United Kingdom and on the road in Nigeria, Kenya and Jordon. Recounting not only what happened to Malala, he introduces audiences to her father Ziauddin, mother Toor Pekai, brothers Khushal and Atal, who she playfully banters with as he shares her culture and childhood detailing how the schoolgirl turned into an educational campaigner. It’s there we get the real, honest details of her daily life.
In one scene, Malala is asked about the different words she has written on several post-it papers in her room. One piece of paper has the word “Cat burglar.” Why did you write that word down? She is asked. Her answer, humorous, childlike and refreshingly candid garners laughs as she explains that she found the meaning very interesting.
Shot fighting for what she believed, she was named after one of the greatest heroines of the Pashtun people: Malalai of Maiwand, a girl often compared to the French saint, Joan of Arc, for her selfless acts of inspiration in war. As a child, Malala’s her father instilled an understanding that she was not barred from doing great things because she was a woman. She was barely 11 years old when she began championing girls’ education, speaking out in TV interviews. The Taliban had overrun her hometown terrorizing residents and threatening to blow up schools and she could not bear the unfairness of it, which fueled her urge to speak out for what she saw as a basic human right.
The film, which begins in 2013, also offers a fascinating look back at the history of her troubled nation, wisely placing its current political volatility in an easily graspable context. As it reaches an end and the lights come up, you leave the theater feeling moved by her courage, sickened by the crime and frustrated by the ignorance and violence that plagues society.
Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @samanthaofole
Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight