Movie Review: “He Named Me Malala”

He Named Me Malala

“It is better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for 100 years.” The soft, high-pitched voice of Malala Yousafzai opens the documentary of her extraordinary life so far, “He Named Me Malala”. At age 15, Malala was shot by Talibani fighters who wanted to silence her message of empowerment for girls. There’s no way these men could have envisioned how much power she would wield in the aftermath.

Her father, Zaiuddin–an educator and activist, encouraged her to speak her mind. When she was approached to ghostwrite a BBC blog about life under Taliban rule, she knew that she was putting herself in danger. Still, she struggled against the prohibitions and restrictions of the Talibs (as she referred to them), so the blogging provided her a necessary outlet for venting her frustration by exposing what was going on in her town, which is situated about 100 miles from Islamabad, Pakistan, in the Swat Valley.


Zaiuddin and Malala

Zaiuddin and Malala


Malala admits that were her father a more traditional man, things would have been different. “If I had an ordinary father,” she explains, “I would have two children by now.” Bear in mind that Malala is only 18 years old. Her father’s influence is inescapable, as they are seen cuddling, chatting–even, amusingly, navigating Zaiuddin’s first tweet.

From the beginning of her life, Zaiuddin was there to set her on a path to be out front. He named her for a martyred female fighter because he expected her to be an activist. When she was born, Zaiuddin sat down with the family tree and pondered the complete lack of any women’s names on the page. He then added the name of the girl who would become his eldest child: Malala. Her mother, Toor Pekai, had attended school when she was younger, but she dropped out early when she realized she was the only girl. Settling into their exile in Birmingham, England, Toor Pekai seems to have the greatest difficulty adjusting to the new life, although even Malala admits that it’s hard to fit in among the English girls. Her voice is tinged with sadness as she describes that she doesn’t fit in, but she can’t go home. Perhaps that’s the lot in life for someone so remarkable.


Malala explains where she grew up

Malala explains where she grew up


Zaiuddin addresses the attempt on her life by saying, when asked who shot her, “It is not a person–it is an ideology.” Her very existence is a nose thumb to the idea that girls (and women) are somehow lesser. The Nobel Prize she won at 17 is further testament to that. At one point, when considering the importance of speaking out, Zaiuddin explains, “If I don’t speak, I would be the most sinful and guilty person in this world.” It’s clear his ethos is carried well forward in his daughter.

It would be easy to reduce Malala to a living doll, a cardboard cutout that gets trotted out whenever there needs to be representation of a girl who survived adversity and challenges antiquated notions of women’s roles in society. When Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of young girls in Nigeria, Malala was asked to come and intervene. “I’m still 17. I’m still a teenager. What can I do to help?” she wondered. Her very presence inspires confidence that things can be different.


Atal and Malala Yousafzai

Atal and Malala


Even so, she’s still a teenager and a human being. Good portions of the movie are devoted to showing her clowning around with her brothers (who give as good as they get when it comes to snark and sarcasm). She searches online for pictures of Brad Pitt and Roger Federer. She’s a sweet young lady who has the poise of a woman easily twice her age.

Interspersed throughout the movie, as the story moves through the details of the attempted assassination, her subsequent rehabilitation, and the seemingly non-stop world tour that followed, animations are woven throughout to illustrate more vividly the experiences that shaped her existence. In drawings reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, you see the story of the Malala for whom she was named, as well as the dejection of Toor Pekai at the point when she abandoned her own schooling.

At times brutal in its honesty, “He Named Me Malala” is a breathtaking salute to a young woman who has defied every odd set against her. It creates context for those who haven’t heard the breadth and depth of her story, and it is–at times–unrelenting. You see Malala with her family, enjoying moments as any family might, but it is impossible to escape the knowledge that the self-imposed exile is all that saves her from the Taliban finishing the job they started a few years ago.

An author and Nobel laureate before 18 years old, Malala has a story worth hearing. One can only hope that this is just the first chapter in a long, long series.


4 out of 4 stars

“He Named Me Malala” opens nationwide on October 9, 2015. This movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats.

Win a digital copy of “Tomorrowland”!


copyright 2015 Disney


There’s something to be said for living in the future. I’m writing on a laptop that connects through air to get to a web of computers spread out across the world. That’s pretty amazing. And, thinking towards the future, on October 13th, Disney’s “Tomorrowland” makes its home release debut on Digital HD/SD, DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, OnDemand, and–very importantly, Disney Movies Anywhere.

Want to get your own digital copy?

I’ve been a Disney Movies Anywhere fan for some time now, since it’s allowed me to take several of my favorite movies with me when I travel (*cough* anything Marvel *cough* Captain America is hot *cough*). This isn’t an ad, folks, I actually just like having the flexibility to watch whatever movies I want when I’m on an airplane–without paying an airline for them!–and this allows me to take my movies with me on my iPad Mini in a nice, street-legal fashion.

So, who wants to get their own copy of this movie? To enter the drawing, just head into the future by using the Rafflecopter below. Ten winners will each receive a Disney Movies Anywhere code for “Tomorrowland”!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



General rules: follow the rules and everybody gets along nicely. You earn entries based on your participation via the Rafflecopter widget, and this giveaway runs from 12:00am ET on Friday, October 9, 2015 until 11:59pm ET on Thursday, October 15, 2015. Only valid entries received during that timeframe will be considered legitimate. Anyone who commits fraud or tries to screw with the system, game the system, or otherwise not play nicely will be removed from consideration. Check “Wheaton’s 1st Law” if you want to understand where I’m coming from, folks. Ten winners will be selected and each will receive a code, supplied by Disney, which will allow them to download “Tomorrowland” via Disney Movies Anywhere. Neither this blog nor Disney is responsible for providing anyone with another platform or app with which to view the movie. If you do not have a Disney account to login to Disney Movies Anywhere, now is a really good time to set one up, as one will be required in order to access the movie. Please check the Disney Movies Anywhere website if you have any questions about supported devices and operating systems. Winners will be notified by email within 1 week of selection. This blog is sponsoring this giveaway, which was kindly donated by the folks at Disney. I did not receive anything from Disney in exchange for hosting this giveaway other than a WHOO HOO THANKS SO MUCH email. I’m nice like that.

In defense of Volkswagen (sort of)

I realize that a lot of people are pretty ticked off at Volkswagen (with fairly good reason). After all, the company admitted that it deployed software to its diesel cars to fool US EPA emissions tests into making their diesels seem as though they were cleaner than they actually are. So, okay, let’s call that what it is: crappy. But let’s also talk about what it isn’t: it’s not a safety issue.

Individuals’ trust in a brand is often built on whether or not the promises made by the company (through messaging, marketing, etc.) meet expectations and consistently represent that brand in a way that the individuals like. People expect Apple to come out with shiny toys that cost more than their competitors’ but that are always easy to operate and have massive hipster appeal. People expect Amazon to offer a wide variety of products at competitive prices, many of which can be delivered in two days (or less). And–until this mess–people expected Volkswagen to offer up a selection of mid-priced cars that drove like a dream and included models with “clean” diesel engines.

I bought my Volkswagen Passat Wagen in 2004, when I was singularly unimpressed with the Subaru Outback, Saturn Vue, and Hyundai Santa Fe. I needed a car that had space for cargo (dogs and kids were on our mind), decent leg-room, speed, and all-wheel (or four-wheel) drive. When my first round of car shopping failed me, we decided to hop up a rung or two on the price ladder, and the 2004 Wagen fit the bill nicely. It drove beautifully (cornered well and sped up nicely off the line), and it had all the features I wanted–plus more. For some reason, VW decided to stop making that car maybe a year or so after mine was manufactured, which is a shame–because it’s a great car. Scratch that: it’s a WONDERFUL car.

In 2007, as we were heading home from a trip to Target, we came to a stop at the four-way stop right near our house. It was my turn to go a few moments later, so I started to move. The next thing I knew, there was a loud BANG and the car seemed to shift to the right. I was confused: what happened? I looked to my left, and there was a Toyota Camry (or Camry-esque car), crashed into mine. The woman driving the other vehicle had blown through the stop sign. She tried to pass it off as my having gone out of turn, but a walker passing by dismissed that–having seen the whole thing–and since the other driver couldn’t have inflicted that much damage coming off a cold stop, the police officer who came also made it clear SHE was at fault. The lack of skid marks also showed that she hadn’t even tried to stop suddenly.

So, let’s review: I was driving my VW Passat Wagen when I was hit by a woman driving a full-size car going 35-40mph (that didn’t even brake). My then-infant daughter was in her car seat in the backseat (passenger-side), and dh was in the passenger seat in front. He got out of the car and removed dd’s infant carrier from the back. My door wouldn’t open, but I unbuckled and crawled out the passenger side. Unharmed. Unbruised. Undamaged. It was like one of those VW ads from a few years ago, where the car would crumple but the people were untouched.

I’m finally in the market for a new car, since (at 11 years old) the annual repair bills are starting to add up to nearly the cost of new car payments. The primary thing stopping me from buying a VW is that they aren’t selling MY car anymore. I can’t afford a Toureg, the Golf Wagen doesn’t yet come in all-wheel drive (and with VW planning to forgo investments in 2016, I wonder if they’ll even bring the German model I lusted after across the Pond next Fall as previously planned), and the salesman I met with a couple of months ago was decidedly lukewarm about showing me a Tiguan. All that added up to me putting a deposit down on a Subaru, but I’m still shedding tears for my current car while I wait for my new one to be built.

My Volkswagen saved my life–and potentially that of my husband and daughter.

If a car’s exhaust isn’t as clean as it promises to be, that sucks. No two ways about it. But those emissions issues don’t equate to a safety issue. Volkswagens are built like tanks, and that “Drivers Wanted” tagline makes sense to anyone who’s ever owned one: they drive like they were designed for people who love to drive.

People can be as ticked off as they want, but I will always love VW because I owe them a debt I can never repay. And so I sympathize with all the diesel owners who feel betrayed because their environmental stewardship wasn’t what they were promised. VW cheated. And while it’s accurate to point out that VW won’t be the first–or last–company to try to pull a fast one, that’s cold comfort for these folks.

But it’s not a safety issue. So VW will pay to fix the cars, and they’ll keep paying–in fines, loss of sales, brand erosion…and yet, I’ll always consider them. I’ll always recommend them. Even if I love the Subaru that’s taking its sweet time getting here, I’ll always consider VW an option and would switch back in a heartbeat.

I’m sure Drivers are still Wanted. And everyone is free to decide which cars they want to consider, but Volkswagen is better than the actions of a few crooked executives: and I’m living proof of that.