Many people will be aware that three years ago in 2012, Malala Yousafzai then, a fifteen year-old Pakistani girl, was shot by the Taliban on her school bus along with two of her friends for defying their ban on female education in the country's Swat Valley. She was brought to Birmingham for emergency surgery and with intensive rehabilitation made a full recovery, albeit with a slightly crooked smile and impaired vision and hearing on one side.
Her continuing fight on behalf of children all over the world to receive an education won her the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 and almost world-wide acclaim. Obviously the Taliban must have been at least rather disappointed that their attempt to silence the voices of Malala and her father in the Swat Valley had rebounded so spectacularly. As Gordon Brown said when he introduced Malala to the United Nations in 2013, ‘It is a miracle Malala is with us today and I am able to say the words the Taliban never wanted us to hear: Happy 16th Birthday, Malala!’
In her speech to the UN she said proudly and loudly: ‘I am Malala. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. I'm not a lone voice, I'm many, and our voices are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen - they can change the world.’
Malala is an incredible example of what one person has already done to change the world. She has published an autobiography, been invited to tea with Queen Elizabeth II and won the EU’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize, drawing a fresh threat of murder from the Taliban, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She, at 18, is in every way a mature stateswoman.
But throughout the documentary, Guggenheim shows us many other aspects of the young woman Malala. We see her with her brothers, playing, teasing in their Birmingham home, and with her parents on visits to the mosque. She shows off her bedroom and bookshelves, her favourite books. She goes to school, but is not happy with some of her grades - 73% for Biology - and tells her friends that here she is not clever at all, unlike in the Swat Valley. She blushes when asked if she would ever have a boyfriend, hides her mouth with her hand when she looks at Internet pictures of her heroes Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi, tennis pro Roger Federer and actor Brad Pitt. It is not hard to remember that at the time these scenes were shot she was only 17.
So who is Malala? This is the question the Taliban asked on the bus of schoolgirls before they shot her in the head. The original and famous Malala was an Afghani heroine who rallied retreating Pashtun fighters to fight against British invaders at the 1880 Battle of Maiwand and was killed during the fighting. Malala insists that while her father named her, he did not make her. But when asked by Guggenheim if he knew that giving his only daughter and eldest child that name would make her different from other women in Swat, Ziauddin says: ‘You're right.’
As Malala grew up he says: ‘We became dependent on each other, like one soul in two bodies.’ Ziauddin conquered his courage and his stammer and defied the Taliban with his activism, while the younger Malala blogged about her life in the valley, anonymously for the BBC, each of them fiery and passionate about standing up to the Taliban.
What sticks with me are the clips of Malala and her father walking through the streets of their town together, devastated and demoralised by daily shootings in the central square, the schools and houses demolished by bombs, the searing silhouettes of Taliban warriors slung with guns and ammunition etched against the burning sky. And Malala as a toddler crawling on the floor of her father’s school, absorbing education as if by osmosis, or years later them slumped together in the back of a car or taxi exhausted on their joint travels across the world. And how Malala’s first words on regaining consciousness in Birmingham were, ‘Where is my father?’
Seeing Ziauddin’s proud, wistful smile and twinkling eyes when he speaks of his daughter, you cannot deny their bond. But there is no doubt Malala has also paid a heavy price for her fame, which still comes with homework, she adds playfully. She would give anything to see the Swat Valley again, despite Taliban vows to kill her if she returns. ‘When I think of home I miss the dirty streets, I miss the river, I miss my friends. I just want to see that house just once.’ But for all that her life has been turned upside down, when asked if she has ever felt bitter about what happened, she says: ‘Never.’
He Named Me Malala is now showing at FACT. Click here for times and tickets.