POSTED October 4 2015

When ordinary documentaries happen to extraordinary people

Malala_Yousafzai_at_Girl_Summit_2014Much as I admire Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager and crusader for education, I was disappointed in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, He Named Me Malala.

At 11 this young woman, now 18, began her political life by blogging about life under Taliban occupation, where education for girls was threatened. At 15 she narrowly survived an assassin’s bullet to her face. At 17, she became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Recently the girl now living in Birmingham, England, has aced her GCSE exams and will head toward college.

What I liked about the film is how it showed that her father, himself an educator, supported her studies and political expression. I also liked the dreamy animation sequences that evoked her in ways that documentary footage cannot. But ultimately Guggenheim’s attempts to locate the girl behind the persona were fruitless.

Are there other documentaries that added up to something less than the sum of their subjects?

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