The story of Malala Yousafzai was rich with possibilities, but many of us are already familiar with the tale of the Pakistani girl from a small mountain village, who survived a brutal Taliban attack and became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Yousafzai's incredible story of survival and inspiration filled the airwaves from CNN to Comedy Central (her appearance with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show is required viewing), and her 2013 autobiography I Am Malala was a bestseller. When in early September, I walked into a not-so-full Toronto theater to screen He Named Me Malala, the new documentary by Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim, I was prepared for a not-so-groundbreaking experience. However, as the credits rolled, I couldn't get over how much I had underestimated this film. And it should absolutely be required viewing for all American school children.
"People think they already know Malala's story," Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), told Boise Weekly after the Toronto premiere of He Named Me Malala. "Oh sure, you might say: 'She's the girl who was shot and was on all of the news channels.' But she could easily be my daughter or your daughter. What I hope I've done here is tell the story of a family."
He does, and he begins it with a beautifully animated bedtime story in the film's opening moments.
"My father would tell me a story when I was a little girl," says Malala, as we see a lovely painting come to life with each word of her narration. "Our nation was losing hope in a terrible war; and as our nation was retreating, a mysterious girl, dressed all in red, suddenly climbed to a mountaintop and raised her voice. 'It's better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for 100 years,' she said, before leading her people to a great victory. But then suddenly, the girl was shot and killed."
Almost as suddenly, the next images are the now-famous news reports, showing 15-year-old Malala being rushed to an emergency room after bullets fired by a Taliban gunman ripped through her face and shoulder while she was riding a school bus.
"It doesn't really matter that I can't hear you completely," says Malala, pointing to her permanently damaged left ear. "And it really doesn't matter that I can't smile properly."
But smile she does, looking like any other teenager. It's particularly sweet to watch the young Malala raise a hand to shyly cover her giggles as she looks at pictures of uber-hunk Brad Pitt on her new Facebook page. In this and other moments, we are reminded that while a Nobel Peace Prize sits on this girl's bookshelf, she still likes movie stars and cartoon characters (the Minions from Despicable Me make her giggle, too).
Malala is no typical teen, though. Her message of the importance of education for all the world's young girls has resonated and become a movement, which swept across continents.
"We love Malala's words: 'One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can indeed change the world," Dr. Dan Prinzing, executive director of Boise's Wassmuth Center for Human Rights told Boise Weekly. "Those words certainly summarize a lot of what the Wassmuth Center is all about, and those words dedicate us to the need for education of all young women."
In conjunction with the Friday, Oct. 9 opening of He Named Me Malala at The Flicks on Friday, Oct. 9, the Wassmuth Center is planning something special for Sunday, Oct. 11 at The Flicks.
"We've been distributing free tickets to students throughout the Treasure Valley, and we've asked that they perhaps invite a refugee or international student as their guest for that evening," said Prinzing. "We expect to fill the theater."
The public is invited to the Oct. 11 celebration, which will include a post-screening discussion. Tickets are $10, and a limited number are available at The Flicks box office or through wassmuthcenter.org.
"Here's a young lady," said Prinzing, taking a long pause. "Well... Malala changed the world, didn't she?"