I was invited to the TIFF 2015 premiere of He Named Me Malala directed by Davis Guggenheim. In the invitation email it said, “We believe your dedication to human rights reflects Malala’s and the film’s efforts in bringing awareness to human rights issues around the world.” Who? Me? My only thought after reading this email was how on earth did they find me and yes, I want to go. After accepting the invitation they asked me if I would be interested in doing a round-table interview with the director. It amazes me how some opportunities just come knocking on your door when you least expect them.
Most of us know the basic Malala story, she was a young girl who was shot on her way to school because she was an open advocate of girls’ education. The documentary gives you the background story that was always missing in the news coverage. While showcasing Malala’s dedication to her cause, the documentary is infused with moments of her personal life. The audience gets an inside look at who she is as a teenager, a sister, a daughter and most importantly a student. They seem like a normal family. Their interactions around the kitchen table, the sibling rivalry, homework, dreams and love for each other are typical but what they’ve survived and their commitment to change makes them special. Malala’s ability to forgive, carry no anger towards the man that shot her and her father’s response to who shot Malala being “it wasn’t a person; it was an ideology” is what makes them extraordinary.
There is no doubt in my mind that Malala will be successful in changing the lives of millions of girls around the world. She will be an inspiration throughout her life but even long after she’s gone. “Change matters,” he said and I got a chill. Ziauddin Yousafzai (Malala’s father) is a man that truly believes in gender equality and he is the type of activist that I aspire to be. It’s as though having a one-track mind works out when the track is justice and equality. Zia appears to be warm and open but passionate about his beliefs. His spirit is embodied in Malala. Together they will make our world better, in fact they already have.
After the screening, TIFF organized a Skype call with Malala and her father. The audience shot up and cheered for them as they appeared on screen. There was something truly magical about that moment and I’m grateful to have experienced it.
In my interview with Davis Guggenheim he said this was the hardest story he’s had to tell. And it might feel a bit disjointed at times but it all comes together in the end. You’ll feel like you got to know Zia more than Malala because she avoids revealing too much of what’s going on in her head. Being a teenager is hard enough, I can’t imagine navigating those years while being a world leader and now a Nobel Peace prize winner. It was interesting to learn that there are corners of the world where people don’t know her. The camera followed her to Kenya where she met the families of the missing school girls from Chibok. A difficult moment for me as I am still upset that they have not been found and released. But what’s uplifting is the manner in which Malala demands the President of Nigeria to take action. Her interactions with people, especially girls around the world, whether they know her or not are natural and humble. None of it seems like an act and that’s refreshing.
In this documentary, Guggenheim chose to focus on the special relationship between Zia and Malala and expose how empowering the love of a father can be for a courageous young girl. He steered away from the violent geopolitics of where they come from and I’m grateful for it. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with gloom and doom style news, this film serves as the anti-dote. It will ignite your passion to stand up for what you believe in and use your voice for social good. Be ready to leave this film as a peaceful but determined activist.
Guggenheim describes the opportunity to make this documentary a privilege. He told us that Zia made him question if he was a good father and if he truly practiced the equality he believed in. Made him wonder if he did treat his son and daughter differently. Zia has that power and I can’t deny I had some questions for myself when I left. It took 2 years to produce this film and in the end; Malala’s humility, Zia’s determination and Guggenheim’s storytelling have come together in a powerful way.
An Inconvenient Truth was revolutionary and in my humble opinion, He Named Me Malala will be as well. It will be a movement. The right to an education should not be determined by one’s gender. So will you stand #WithMalala?