On Friday, Feb. 26, ONE at Wesleyan screened “He Named Me Malala,” a documentary about the activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. The film documented Yousafzai’s experience in her Pakistani village under the Taliban and her adjustment to life in the United Kingdom.
Yousafzai has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, especially the right to education. She miraculously survived after being shot by the Taliban as part of the group’s opposition to women’s education. Despite the attack, Yousafzai continues to travel the world promoting women’s education. She believes educating women can help combat the influence extremist groups have on a population.
“He Named Me Malala” is directed by Davis Guggenheim and primarily focuses on Yousafzai and her relationship with her father. The movie begins with the story of Malalai of Maiwand, the Afghani folk hero, after whom Yousafzai’s father named her. Throughout the movie, parallels are drawn between Malalai of Maiwand and Malala Yousafzai. Yousafzai’s bravery, fearlessness, and perseverance are highlighted throughout.
The documentary focuses on Yousafzai’s everyday life since she left Pakistan. It also contains many moments of reflection in which she talks about her experiences in Pakistan under the Taliban. While Yousafzai is the main focus of the documentary, her father also is a big presence. The movie highlights Yousafzai’s relationship with her father and some of her stories are told through his voice.
Zhi Ming Gan ’18, one of the organizers of the screening, noted that the movie made him appreciate his education more.
“I feel as though sometimes we don’t understand [and] we can get lost in not appreciating education,” he said. “Just sharing Malala’s story and how important education is so important to some people, and how privileged we are is just amazing.”
Gan emphasized the ONE’s mission. He explained that the movie screening represented only a small part of the group’s mission.
“We’re a new organization on campus…. We’re actually a chapter of a larger organization called ONE,” Gan said. “ONE is a non-partisan organization that looks to eradicate preventable diseases and extreme poverty through political advocacy…. We believe that Wesleyan’s community has a really strong moral compass and I think it can effect real change.”
Giselle Reyes ’18 was impressed by Yousafzai’s commitment to women’s rights.
“It was really inspiring how dedicated she was to her cause, especially at such a young age,” Reyes said. “She overcame so much because she wanted to empower women through education…. Her determination, despite everyone who tried to get her down, that’s amazing.”
Reyes also asserted why she thought screening the movie at Wesleyan was important.
“We are about female empowerment [at the University],” Reyes said. “It’s always good to spread that message,”
Christopher Wyckoff ’18 spoke to the format of the documentary.
“It was a very well-made documentary,” he said. “I was taken aback because there would be very comical moments and then sudden moments of intensity.”
Wyckoff also commented on how the film allowed viewers to empathize with Yousafzai.
“It definitely helped communicate the fact that she’s just like anyone of us,” he said. “But she’s also this young girl who has gone through these very horrific events throughout her life, and she’s been navigating that. There’s this duality to her life.”
He reflected on societal perceptions of education and compared them to the statistical reality.
“We live in a society where people take it for granted,” Wyckoff said. “There are 66 million girls who don’t have that opportunity.”
Wyckoff noted the documentary’s emphasis on the support of Yousafzai’s friends and family.
“There’s definitely a very strong argument for the importance of community,” Wyckoff said.
He also discussed the political implications that the documentary conveyed. He suggested that some political interests did not necessarily represent the interest of the people.
“[You see] the conflict between the political interests of different groups, and how that’s not in sync at all with people at the local level,” Wyckoff said. “It’s definitely an issue everyone should be aware of.”
He concluded by explaining why screenings like these are important at the University.
“Wesleyan likes to claim activist qualities,” Wyckoff said. “Knowing about issues that affect education are crucial.”