Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Movie Review: He Named Me Malala (2015)

Previous comments that I have made on this blog may give the impression that I am anti-feminist. Well, that is true to a certain extent, in that I am very much against feminism as it exists today. It seems to be trying to push an idea that women are better than men is somehow better than the opposite stance… which it very much isn’t. Constantly making comments along the lines of all men are murderous rapists isn’t helping anyone, or do I need to bring up that #KillAllMen was an actual thing not that long ago? Hell, even people who have a legitimate point to make (Anita Sarkeesian) end up making it through questionable means; it’s like a rock band that wants to deliver a political message in their lyrics but can barely hold a note. As such, whenever someone like Malala comes along who actually seems to have the right approach to furthering equal rights between the sexes, even I find myself gaining hope in the entire movement as it stands right now. But there’s still that Shitty Political Rock Band angle to deal with; that message still has to be delivered in the right way. So, with that in mind, how does today’s documentary fare? This is He Named Me Malala.

The plot: Through the use of recorded home footage and animations, the film follows Malala Yousafzai and her family as they go about their day-to-day life while she also juggles it with her activism. We learn her family history, attempts on their lives at the hands of the Taliban and even an instance where Malala was nearly killed in an attack.

One of the big problems that come up with more prominent figures in media, even and especially if they are trying to spearhead a political movement, is that their message can outweigh the person delivering it. I brought it up back with Freeheld because, even beyond the realm of film, it’s possible for a matter to grow too politicized and lose the human touch. This is where the film hits its high notes, as it manages to portray Malala as a regular teenage girl, regardless of her publicity. She gets embarrassed, even when it isn’t really warranted, she ribs her siblings, and she misses her home country after being forced to leave it. However, that’s not to say that she is made wholly ordinary in the process, as she is still shown to have amazing courage and forgiveness, not to mention the kind of drive to change the world that I could only dream of possessing. Basically, this is the Diana biopic, only there’s no trite romantic dialogue to hinder the character portrayal.

This film has a very polished and high-quality feel to it, which is pretty much the polar opposite of what a good documentary should strive for. Documentaries are usually at their most effective when they are at their grungiest; the less post-production, the more realistic it comes across. This is especially true for docos that focus on a person rather than an event, as creating a better connection with the subject allows whatever message the film wants to convey to flow more naturally. Compare that statement to this film, directed by the same guy who gave us An Inconvenient Truth, distributed by Fox Searchlight and National Geographic and scored by Thomas Newman, who did the music for the last two Bond films. As much as I don’t want to sully the story of an exceptional brave person, there is an unfortunate artificial sheen to all of this that makes it difficult to truly connect with the people involved. The reality of the events is never brought into question; it’s more that it feels like the more gruesome elements have been fazed out of the final product. That is a particularly odd trick, considering that this film features actual radio recordings of Maulana Fazlullah spreading his own propaganda, as well as stills of Malala in the hospital after the attempt on her life. As a whole, it starts to feel like its own little propaganda piece against the Taliban and their stances towards women, which is perfectly fine considering they are the bad guys, but it’s done too heavy-handed to really stick regardless of its authenticity.

This isn’t helped by how the life events are arranged on film. Now, speaking as someone who admittedly didn’t know all that much about Malala going into the film, I do feel like I left the cinema having learnt her story and where she is now. However, said story feels jumbled together without a real timeline to follow, with events just being expounded upon whenever the editors feel fit. To compound this, we have a handful of scenes that are narrated to us with painted animations to detail them. At the start of the film, when this technique is used to portray the story of Malalai of Maiwand, Malala’s namesake, it makes for a rather striking moment. By the end of the film, this same technique has been overused to the point where it loses its efficacy. It still looks neat but the intent behind it is all but lost.


All in all, while this isn’t a bad film by any means, its efficacy is dampened quite heavily by how much shellac seems to have been smeared over the production. I’m not asking for this to be The Aristocrats-level cheap to get its point across, but the visual cleanliness and the sweeping score, combined with overused animation, makes what is otherwise a very worthwhile subject for a documentary feel a lot more focus-grouped than it really is. I’ll admit that it did manage to convey all the necessary information about Malala and her story, but I really wish that it was portrayed in a greater manner than what we got. It’s better than The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water since, even with how unabashedly fun that film was, this sat better with me because it was a lot more sober than that film was. However, in a comparison that I sincerely hope doesn’t cause undue assumptions about my own political views, American Sniper portrayed both its issue and main character with more finesse than this ultimately did.

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