The one thing that makes Malala Yousafzai blush in a documentary about her being released next month is when filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) asks the now 18-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner if she would ever ask a boy for a date.
She claps a hand to her mouth and giggles, while later a camera shot of her computer shows her perusing pictures of Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi, tennis pro Roger Federer and actor Brad Pitt.
But the young Pakistani woman who on Friday opens a summit of world leaders at the United Nations otherwise comes across in “He Named Me Malala” as a formidable proponent of exactly what prompted the Taliban to try to kill her in her native Swat Valley: education for everyone, but particularly for girls.
“I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education,” she says in the film. “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.”
The 2012 attack on Yousafzai by a Taliban fighter who stopped her school bus and shot her left her with head injuries she was not expected to survive.
The film shows intimate details of the long process of rehabilitation after she was airlifted to England for medical care, undergoing therapy that included learning how to catch a ball again and recovering her power of speech.
She still has no hearing in her left ear and her motor control of the left side of her face is impaired, but the film shows she hasn’t lost a jot of the bravery that made her a target for the Taliban.
Following a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, an interviewer asks if she had spoken to Obama about her concern that drone attacks “are fuelling terrorism”, to which she responds, “Yes, of course.”
The film opens with a tale explaining that she is named for 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.
Asked by Guggenheim if he knew that giving his only daughter that name would make her different from other women in Swat, her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, says: “You’re right.”
The film is effective at teasing out the strong bond between father and daughter, and also shows some of the difficulties the family has had adjusting to life in Britain.
Malala says she would give anything to see her home in Swat 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,” she says.
But for all that her life has been turned upside down, when asked if she has ever been angry about what happened, she says: “Never.”