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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Davis Guggenheim's documentary He Named Me Malala is a moving, engrossing, sometimes disturbing, but also delightful documentary about Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, an uncommonly brave teenage girl who's also a world-renowned human rights activist. The film is frank about everything that led to Malala's shooting in 2012, including the increasingly turbulent politics that fed into the event and the subsequent challenges she faced -- and continues to face -- as she moves forward. While there's no graphic imagery that directly reveals the extent of her injuries, viewers do see bloody pictures of the vehicle she was riding in, as well as surgery-prep scenes, and there's news footage showing how almost everyone expected her to die. That, combined with the film's other references to violence and images of gunfire, threats, and explosions, make it too intense for younger viewers, but older tweens and up are likely to find the movie's messages about courage, the importance of education, and standing up for your beliefs absolutely inspiring.
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What's the story?
In 2012, Malala Yousafzai -- a Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani humanitarian and activist -- was shot in her neighborhood for speaking against the Taliban and advocating for girls' right to be educated in her home country (and around the world). In HE NAMED ME MALALA, director Davis Guggenheim takes an intimate look at Malala's life, both as a public figure and as a teenage daughter/older sister, in the 18 months before she was named the recipient of one of the world's highest honors.
Is it any good?
A chronicle of Malala's achievements alone would make for a fascinating documentary; what sets this film apart is how viewers meet not only the Malala the role model, but also Malala the teenager. Because not only is she one of the most recognizable activists in the world, but she's also an older sister to two boys, a high school student, and -- most movingly -- a daughter to a father who has always recognized her boldness and nurtured her independent spirit, despite the fearsome consequences.
Guggenheim makes use of beautiful animated paintings to depict the Malala of lore, after whom the famous teen is named, imbuing her life with a sense of manifest destiny. Through interviews with Malala, we get to know her as a relatable, three-dimensional figure preoccupied with typical concerns ("will I make friends with the girls at my new school?") and larger global worries ("will I ever see my country again in peace?") He Named Me Malala is both humanizing and inspiring. Bravo!
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how He Named Me Malala compares to the news appearances that Malala has made over the years. Does it help you get to know her in a different way? Why does that matter? What makes her a role model?
Parents, talk to your kids about what's happening in the world and how Malala's shooting is more than just a crime. Does the film help explain what happened -- and why? Which has more impact on you -- hearing a story like Malala's, which includes violent moments, or seeing violent scenes in an action movie? Why?
How does the movie make you feel about school and education? Do you appreciate having access to teachers, schoolbooks, and other learning materials? How does it make you feel to realize so many kids have few or none of these things?
What role do the movie's animated paintings play in Malala's story?
- In theaters: October 2, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: December 15, 2015
- Cast: Malala Yousafzai
- Director: Davis Guggenheim
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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