When Malala Youfsai was born, her father’s cousin showed him a family tree dating back 300 years. Malala’s father noticed that there was not a singe female name on it. He took his pen and wrote Malala.
His daughter is now, arguably, the most famous teenager in the world. A Nobel Peace prize winner, writer, respected speaker at the United Nations, a girl who admonishes Presidents if they’re not doing their job, globe trotting ambassador for education, she does it all while studying for her GCSEs
She is also the subject of He named me Malala, a documentary being shown at The London Film Festival 2015.
During an early screening people around me openly sobbed while watching it. My own throat felt pretty constricted at times too. Then, just as quickly we all laughed out loud at something in the film.
It’s a wonderful, charming, tragic, heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting film about a remarkable girl that makes you question your own life and what you’re doing to, well, contribute to the world.
Malala is contributing a great deal. Having survived being shot by the Taliban and suffering permanent disfigurement as a result, she goes about her business with jaw dropping courage, tenacity, forgiveness and a big dose of humour.
Malala was shot not by a person but by an ideology, says the father who has shaped her life, her ideals and her aspirations. That ideology is an evil one. It starts from the premise that women are inferior to men. That they should not be educated. That they belong in the home and if they dare to venture out or challenge their men-folk they can be maimed, disfigured and killed with impunity.
The tragedy of this film is that it will not be seen by those who most need to see it; the men who bomb girls’ schools, the boys who are brought up to dismiss girls and women as ‘lesser’ beings, the women who look at Malala and see a ‘traitor.’
The film has a message but it never turns into a lecture. It’s a very human portrait of a girl who googles images of Shane Watson and Roger Federer (one suspects not just for their sporting prowess) and beats up her lazy brothers like any self respecting big sister. She comes across as nothing short of adorable in the film. You would have to have a heart of stone not to shed a tear when you see photographs of the beautiful little girl she was before the shooting next to film of her during her treatment at a Birmingham hospital where she was flown after the cowardly attack on her school bus.
Yet, when she speaks she might as well be 150. Confident, articulate and passionate she says simply, ‘education gives you the power to challenge things, to be independent. ‘
To achieve that basic right for millions of girls to whom it is denied, she travels around the world speaking, encouraging, teaching, learning and most of all inspiring, knowing that her words drive some to fury so intense they want to kill her.
As the film says, though in the war against extremists ‘when every man was losing courage on the battlefield , a woman raised her voice.’