The Real Reason 'He Named Me Malala' Is So Inspiring
When I saw the trailer for He Named Me Malala, I immediately teared up. I expected watching the feature film itself, therefore, to similarly involve waterworks. He Named Me Malala was not just an emotional experience, however, but also an inspiring one that offered unprecedented insight into the full humanity of this young leader.
For those not familiar with her story, Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for girls' education and the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize. Malala began her activist journey at just 11 years old, when she wrote a BBC column about the struggle girls face to get an education under Taliban rule. She incredibly survived an assassination attempt and continued to advocate for women worldwide, even publishing a book about her work.
I was familiar with Malala's story — in fact, Malala's work inspired me to revive my school's Girl Up chapter. But watching it play out on screen truly made me realize the extent to which this young woman risked her life and safety to defy the structures put in place to oppress women and advocate for the basic rights of girls everywhere. Director Davis Guggenheim (who also directed An Inconvenient Truth) specializes in making grand, often incalculable, subjects feel intimate, and He Named Me Malala is no exception.
But the film's depiction of Malala commendably goes beyond depicting her as an untouchable activist, campaigner, and voice of reason. Viewers also see her as, very simply, a girl. She’s a high school teen worrying about GCSEs, crushing on Roger Federer, arguing with her brothers, sharing moments with her father. She’s charming, shy, dryly humorous, and personable: She’s as normal as one can expect from a high-school teen prepping for college.
This is perhaps best illustrated through the depiction of her relationship with her father, Ziauddin, and the role he has played in her upbringing. In a March, 2014 TED Talk, Yousafzai described the way he raised his daughter. When people ask how he raised Malala to be "so bold and so courageous and so vocal and poised," he said he tells them, "Don't ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that's all.”
This philosophy is clearly a major reason why Malala is who she is today. Her father gave her the foundation for independence and strength of will and she built upon it. This relationship — the exchange of his love and her courage — is depicted in the simplest of gestures throughout the movie. It's evident that Ziauddin is ultimately just a father supporting his daughter and allowing her to be the best possible version of herself: Her version just happens to include global advocacy.
This relatability ultimately makes Malala even more inspiring. Though she is often (deservedly) depicted as a marauder of women’s rights, she’s also a daughter, a sister, a girl. Realizing this sends an empowering message: We're all capable of sparking change. We’re all capable of fighting for important causes, working towards the same goals, and advocating for the same beliefs. As Malala herself once said, “I chose this life—and now, I must continue it.”
We all have that choice, too.
More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Media
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