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He Named Me Malala’ does a disservice to a great activist

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He Named Me Malala is a flawed portrait of the courageous activist.

Two stars

He Named Me Malala Directed by Davis Guggenheim. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Anyone wanting to learn more about Malala Yousafzai, the extraordinary Pakistani teenager who last year became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, should consult something other than the infomercial disguised as a documentary that is He Named Me Malala. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, who previously made equally stultifying docs about climate change (An Inconvenient Truth) and public education (Waiting for “Superman”), the film spends a great deal of time with its subject without ever getting a sense of what drives her; Guggenheim asks a lot of the right questions, but seems unconcerned when he gets evasive or banal answers. Yousafzai doesn’t much like talking about herself, which could be considered admirable. But shy reticence doesn’t exactly make for riveting viewing.

Granted, if you know nothing at all about Yousafzai, He Named Me Malala will give you the basics: her blog about life under Taliban rule, which she started writing when she was only 11; the 2012 assassination attempt that nearly killed her, and her choice to publicly forgive her assailant (who remains at large, as far as anyone knows); her subsequent worldwide fame and activism on behalf of women’s rights to education. But you could learn all that from Wikipedia in five or 10 minutes, and the bulk of this documentary is remarkably incurious, depicting traumatic memories via cutesy animated sequences and generally presenting the same view of Yousafzai one gets from her appearances on The Daily Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Such remarkable courage deserves better.

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