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  • HE NAMED ME MALALA

MALALA YOUSAFZAI – HE NAMED ME MALALA

In many ways, Malala Yousafzai is just like any other teenager. She loves to spend time with her family and friends, argues, playfully, with her brothers, likes playing games and dreams of going to university to study.

And in so many other ways, she is quite remarkable – courageous, fiercely bright, articulate, passionate, compassionate, wise and the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize. And, perhaps most remarkable of all, she has refused to let a horrific attempt on her life silence her. 

He Named Me Malala is an intimate portrait of this extraordinary young woman who, at 15, was targeted by the Taliban in her native Swat Valley, Pakistan and severely wounded by gunshot as she returned home on a school bus. 

The terrorists had singled her out for advocating the rights for girls to have education – ‘defying’ a Taliban order. Her life hung in the balance and only the skills of medical teams in Pakistan and the UK saved her.

After her recovery, Malala refused to give up and is now a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace last October [2014] when still only 17, making her the youngest ever laureate. 

“That incident in my life, in a way, changed me and changed my whole story,” she says. “Before the attack I used to get a little bit scared about what would happen if someone came and took me, if the Taliban came to stop me.

“I used to think about that but after the incident I realised that I’m surviving and I’m alive and there is some reason for it. A bullet going near to your brain, into a place where you can’t even imagine that you could survive. But I am still surviving and I’m in very good health. I can talk, I can walk, I can live like a normal person. 

“And so there is some reason that I’m surviving and I think that reason is to help people and to continue this fight for education and now education has become part of my life – working for it, fighting for it, this is my life now.”

Her memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, was published in 2013 and Malala and her family were approached by several filmmakers who wanted to tell her story on the big screen.

Her father, Ziauddin, a teacher who opened several schools in the Swat Valley, is himself a committed campaigner for the rights for girls’ education. Malala and Ziauddin chose producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald who, in turn, brought director Davis Guggenheim on board.

“We had no idea how film would be able to deliver our story and we were a bit worried; if they were going to choose some actors or maybe ask us to act in it. It was a bit weird to think of it,” says Malala. 

“But then Walter and Laurie both had such passion for education and they really wanted people to get inspired and to learn from it and also they thought that this was important. 

“Because for some people it’s just a story of a girl being shot for standing up for education, and that’s very nice, but they felt that this message about education should spread. 

“And what we always say is that this story is not the story of one family but this is the story of millions of children, millions of families. So Walter, Davis and Laurie have all shown that this is the story of one family but also millions of people are suffering through the same situation, which this family has suffered.”

Since the attack, Malala and her family have been living in Birmingham in England, as the documentary shows, and at first it was hard to settle into a new country. 

“In the beginning it was quite hard to settle in this totally different country with a new culture and for me, especially school, was totally different. It was a new way teaching, a new way of examinations, and a new way of friendships. 

“But with the passage of time it has gotten much better now and we have lots of friends and at my school I have lots of friends, and I just feel like I’m a Brummie* now,” she laughs referring to the local slang for a native of Birmingham. 

“I’m a total Brummie and I do feel like my accent is changing a bit, not in interviews, but at home when I talk it’s totally different.”

She is now hard at work on preparing for ‘A’ levels – the examinations needed for entry into a UK university – and hopes to go to Oxford. And her work as a campaigner will, during term time, have to go on the back burner whilst she concentrates on school. 

“In the next two years I’ll be doing my A levels and then I want to go to university. I want to study PPE [Philosophy, Politics and Economics]. I’m hoping that I can study that at Oxford and for that I’m working hard and trying to get good grades and do some work experience.

“It’s going well,” she says of her studies. “In the beginning there was so much work and I missed my school and because of that I was a bit behind and I had to revise many topics. 

“During my spare time I realised that there were so many topics that I hadn’t covered because I was absent and I had to give those topics more time and revise them. 

“It was hard during exam time so this year I have decided no work at all during term time, no other activities, just school work, because education is important for everyone, including me.”

In the future Malala hopes to be able to return to Pakistan to work. “I’m hoping that we will be able to go to Pakistan very soon and I am very excited about that,” she says. 

“Being away from your own country for three years is very hard. We came to the UK not from our own choice but circumstances. People in the UK have been very welcoming and kind and we are grateful for their love and support, but it’s difficult to live in a situation where it’s not your own choice and we are hoping to be able to go [to Pakistan]. I’m pretty sure that after I finish my studies I will definitely work in Pakistan and that has been my dream for years and years, to help my country.”

“Before we left I saw terrorism, I saw girls being denied the right to education, so the journey started there.  I want it to take me back there and I’m hopeful that it will.”

The film shows us a young woman with two very different lives – one a teenager who loves to joke and play with her brothers, frets about her grades, and likes to follow cricket, and the other a committed activist who has met presidents and prime ministers, travelled the world and addressed the UN. 

“Right now it feels like I have two different lives,” she says. “One is the girl at home fighting with her brothers, living like a normal girl, going to school, doing homework and exams. 

“So one is that girl and then there is another girl who speaks out for education, so it seems like two different lives, but the reality is that it’s one girl doing all those things. 

“And I’m trying my best every day to connect the two together and consider it as part of my life because it’s just me. I’m going to school like a normal student and having to prepare for exams and being the girl that speaks out. So both of these are part of my life and both are me.”

Q/A follows:
Q: What did you think of the film?

A: When I saw it I felt very happy that Davis has told our story very powerfully. And I was also very pleased at how art and a story can come together and make the story more beautiful and more powerful and this is what Davis has done – his art, his skills, combine with the story of our family.

Q: Could you convey the emotions you felt when you saw the film for the first time?

A: What was great about the film when I saw it was how Davis has combined art with our story and I found it very exciting. It went back into our [family’s] past and I saw the life of my father and the life of my mother, how she faced difficulty, and how she stopped going to school and then in my own life, growing up and how close I was to school. There was no one else telling our story – it was us. And one of the things that was exciting and not very good was when my brother was talking against me [laughs]. It was Davis’s right to make the film, he had to choose what he wanted, but if had been me I would have cut those things out. Other than that I thought it was wonderful. Maybe in the next movie, if we have another movie, He Named Malala 2, I won’t have my brother talking against me [laughs]. But I’m very thankful to all the producers; to Fox Searchlight, to Walter, to Laurie and Davis, and Image Nation, for their support in this campaign for every child to have education. They have all given their time and worked hard with us and this movie is really very important to our family.

Q: When your book came out I’m sure you had approaches from a lot of filmmakers who wanted to tell your story, because it is an incredible story. Why did you feel that Laurie MacDonald, Walter Parkes [producers] and Davis were the right ones to do it?

A: Well, we had no idea how film would be able to deliver our story and we were a bit worried; if they were going to choose some actors or maybe ask us to act in it. It was a bit weird to think of it. But then Walter and Laurie both had such passion for education and they really wanted people to get inspired and to learn from it and also they thought that this was important. Because for some people it’s just a story of a girl being shot for standing up for education, and that’s very nice, but they felt that this message about education should spread. And what we always say is that this story is not the story of one family but this is the story of millions of children, millions of families. So Walter, Davis and Laurie have all shown that this is the story of one family but also millions of people are suffering through the same situation, which this family has suffered.

Q: Is it hard to watch yourself on film?

A: I can’t watch my interviews, it’s extremely hard for me. Seriously, if someone is playing a video in which I’m talking I can’t even hear my voice. 

Q: You’ve spoken at the UN; you’ve been on TV shows all over the world. Do you get nervous?

A: I take it seriously and I feel like, ‘this is the time you are speaking to the world...’ And at the UN, I felt that I wasn’t just speaking to the 400 or 500 people sitting in front of me but I was speaking to those children who are deprived of education, I was speaking to all parents, to all teachers, everyone, all leaders, and this is what gives me more confidence. And also, I just speak. I just say what is in my heart. If my diction isn’t correct, fine, if I’m not speaking in a very typical political way, I don’t really mind, I just say what is in my heart. 

Q:  In the film we see your family trying to settle into a new country, the UK, so how is life for you and your family now?

A: In the beginning it was quite hard to settle in this totally different country with a new culture and for me, especially school, was totally different, it was a new way of teaching, a new way of examinations, and a new way of friendships. But with the passage of time it has gotten much better now and we have lots of friends and at my school I have lots of friends and I just feel like I’m a Brummie* now [laughs]. I’m a total Brummie and I do feel like my accent is changing a bit, not in interviews, but at home when I talk it’s totally different.

Q: You’ll be going to watch the local football teams next…

A: I don’t really understand football [laughs]. My brothers are supporting some teams but I don’t really get it. But one thing I have learned is that if you are in the West Midlands you shouldn’t say anything about Manchester United [laughs]. And you have to be very careful if you are saying who is your favourite cricket or football team – very, very careful!

Q: Where are you with your own education now?

A: In the next two years I’ll be doing my A levels and then I want to go to university. I want to study PPE.  I’m hoping that I can study that at Oxford and for that I’m working hard and trying to get good grades and do some work experience. I’ve done two weeks work experience recently. One week was at Mosaic, which is the organisation created by The Prince of Wales, which helps marginalised children in the UK through mentoring, and one was with a group that helps young people, where young people with new ideas can come and do what they want and help in the community. I did the work experiences with my friend and it involved creating a campaign and making coffee – that was the first time I learnt how to make coffee – doing workshops, helping the people who were arranging the workshops, lots of things. I really enjoyed it. And I want to have good things on my CV to help my admission to university. 

Q: You have a busy life, you have your organisation, and your schoolwork, and in the film you said that sometimes your school works suffers because you are so busy. How is that going now?

A: It’s going well. In the beginning there was so much work and I missed my school and because of that I was a bit behind and I had to revise many topics. During my spare time I realised that there were so many topics that I hadn’t covered because I was absent and I had to give those topics more time and revise them. It was hard during exam time so this year I have decided no work at all during term time, no other activities, just school work, because education is important for everyone, including me.

Q: The attack on you could have marked the end of your campaign for education for girls and yet it, in many ways, it was the beginning of a new chapter for you. Was that a conscious decision, that you wouldn’t let it define you as a victim?

A: That incident in my life, in a way, changed me and changed my whole story and before the attack I used to get a little bit scared about what would happen if someone came and took me, if the Taliban came to stop me. I used to think about that but after the incident I realised that I’m surviving and I’m alive and there is some reason for it. A bullet going near to your brain, into a place where you can’t even imagine that you could survive. But I am still surviving and I’m in very good health; I can talk, I can walk, I can live like a normal person. And so there is some reason that I’m surviving and I think that reason is to help people and to continue this fight for education and now education has become part of my life – working for it, fighting for it, this is my life now.

Q: Are you optimistic about the future in terms of education for girls?

A: I am very optimistic but in terms of taking decisions and what should be done next, I am careful. I do think about both sides of an argument. But I am optimistic and I am hopeful that there will be change but it’s when will that change come? When will it be sorted out? When will things be better? Is that in 100 years? 50 years? 30 years? How much time will pass? And when will the world leaders give time to it? That’s why we say that we need to speak for education right now because if we remain silent then world leaders, whose children are in very good schools and very good universities, wouldn’t give time to the education of other children. So it’s important that we highlight the issues right now. We need to continue to keep it in the spotlight.

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: I like lots of things. I have no limits for doing things. I love to be with my friends, playing games, fighting with my brothers [laughs]. That’s really good fun. Especially when you are fighting against your brothers. If you are fighting against them, that’s more enjoyable. They argue a lot, especially, the little one and it’s extremely hard to argue with him  - he has an answer for everything. And the older one you can defeat him with two or three words. He’s fine but the little one is very small, even though he is 11 he is still very small but he is very clever and he argues a lot.

Q: You are obviously a very close family…

Q: Yes.

Q: I was talking to your father and he said that even when you were very little, like three years old, you would have long conversations. Can you remember that time?

A: I remember some of it. I do remember our house that was very close to our school and I remember going to the school when I wasn’t admitted yet. I was about four years old. I always used to cry if I was late for school. And then I would worry about what the teachers would think and if they were going to get angry with me and my father and mother would say ‘you have to go now...’ and then the teachers would say ‘we are not going to shout at you or say anything, just come to school...’ I do remember some things from when I was tiny. I have lived for 18 years – 15 years in Pakistan and almost three years in the UK. : I remember some of it. I do remember our house that was very close to our school and I remember going to the school when I wasn’t admitted yet. I was about four years old. I always used to cry if I was late for school. And then I would worry about what the teachers would think and if they were going to get angry with me and my father and mother would say ‘you have to go now...’ and then the teachers would say ‘we are not going to shout at you or say anything, just come to school...’ I do remember some things from when I was tiny. I have lived for 18 years – 15 years in Pakistan and almost three years in the UK. 

Q: So that love of school and education was there from a very young age. Why did it captivate you in that way?

A: My father has always been a role model for me, an inspiration for me, and I would love his speeches and love the way that he would talk about women’s rights and education and the change we all wanted to see. And he would talk about the change and he would say ‘we can do it, the change is going to come.’ Also there were some very good speakers in our school, some young girls delivering speeches in the morning assemblies, and I wanted to give speeches like that, I wished to give speeches like my father. Later I realised that I could give a speech, but I’m not like that fiery speaker, like my father, I’m quite quiet. I don’t remember this but my mother and father say that when I was very little I just loved talking to the empty classroom, to the chairs, sort of lecturing. I was being a teacher. 

Q: You always seem so fearless and calm, have you always been that way? Were you worried when you were writing your blog? And now, are you afraid sometimes?

A: I think it’s part of human nature to get scared and there were times when I was scared. I was scared to go to school because I was scared that someone could throw acid on my face or the terrorists could flog me because I was going to school and I was doing something against what they want. So yes, there were times I was scared. But what kept me going on was the courage --the courage that came to me because my father inspired me, the way he spoke out on women’s rights and education, and seeing in my community, in the Swat Valley, that there was no peace. The Taliban are bombing schools and if these things are ever going to change, there is a responsibility to speak out, to do something, and that gave me courage. Right now, I am optimistic. I do care about things, I do ask questions and I do think before making any decisions, but I am optimistic about the future and that things will change.

Q: In the film it’s clear that you have a longing to see the Swat Valley again. Did you envisage a time when you could go back there and live?

A: I’m hoping that we will be able to go to Pakistan very soon and I am very excited about that. Being away from your own country for three years is very hard. We came to the UK not from our own choice but circumstances. People in the UK have been very welcoming and kind and we are grateful for their love and support, but it’s difficult to live in a situation where it’s not your own choice and we are hoping to be able to go [to Pakistan]. I’m pretty sure that after I finish my studies I will definitely work in Pakistan and that has been my dream for years and years, to help my country. Before we left I saw terrorism, I saw girls being denied the right to education. So the journey started there and I want it to take me back there and I’m hopeful that it will.


Q: Do you ever feel that there is too much attention on you and wish that you could just lead a ‘normal’ life?

A: Right now it feels like I have two different lives. One is the girl at home fighting with her brothers, living like a normal girl, going to school, doing homework and exams. So one is that girl and then there is another girl who speaks out for education, so it seems like two different lives, but the reality is that it’s one girl doing all those things. I’m trying my best every day to connect the two together and consider it as part of my life because it’s just me. I’m going to school like a normal student and having to prepare for exams and being the girl that speaks out. So both of these are part of my life and both are me.

Q: Can you describe what it was like to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

A: The Nobel Peace Prize was a special award and when I received it I was not expecting it at all and it was such a surprise to know that you have the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17, when you are still a child. But I was honoured and I received the prize for standing up for children and their education and it gave me strength and more courage to know that it is time that we focus more on the issue of education because many children are deprived of the right to go to school. It’s a very important issue and the Nobel Peace Prize gave me the opportunity to spread the message across the world.

Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

A: I think hopefully I will have finished my school and university education in the coming 10 years and I’m hoping that I will be doing great work in Pakistan, helping children to go to school. I have a strong commitment to my country. I promised to myself that I would help Pakistan become a better country and to help the people of Pakistan receive peace and make sure that they get a quality education and they see development. It’s really sad to know that in this world on one side there is technology and all these new devices on the other side there are children who can’t go to school at all, there are people who don’t have basic facilities. So I am hoping to be able to help my country and whichever way possible, I will do it.


•A ‘Brummie’ is a native of Birmingham, England.

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI – HE NAMED ME MALALA

Ziauddin Yousafzai admits that, at times, it was difficult watching Davis Guggenheim’s revealing documentary that focuses on the events before and after the horrific attack on his remarkable teenage daughter, Malala.

Malala, then aged 15, was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in October 2012 – her ‘crime’ was to have spoken up for the rights of girls to be educated. Guggenheim’s compelling film tells the story of Malala’s family and shows how an extraordinarily brave young girl, inspired by her father, refused to be silenced by terrorists. 

It also documents her recovery from the attack and how, now living in the UK, she balances her life as a schoolgirl with her role as a fund raising, globe-trotting activist who is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize.

“Some parts of the film were very moving and some parts we weren’t comfortable with because our life is quite a difficult life,” says Yousafzai, who is known as Zia to his friends. 

“We have been through various difficult circumstances that you don’t like to see, but you have to see, because it’s our life story depicted. But I think Davis has made a very good film and he was the right person to do this documentary.”

After Malala’s memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, Zia and his family were inundated with requests to make a film account of their lives and the attack.

They choose award-winning producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes who, in turn, brought Guggenheim on board to direct. Quite simply, says Zia, he relied on his instincts that told him he could trust the filmmakers to tell their story with respect. He wasn’t disappointed.

“When Laurie and Walter first came and sat with us we didn’t quite know how it would work but during that discussion we knew that they wanted to make a film about our life story and Walter and Laurie were very passionate,” he recalls. 

“And they themselves are very inspiring. When they heard our story they were so impressed and took so much interest in it that we too became inspired, and that’s how it started. So I appreciate both of them; their power to communicate and their power to convince us.”

Guggenheim and his team became a part of the family’s life and, says Zia, the director is a skilled interviewer who rapidly gained their trust. At the heart of film is a story about a family – a close knit, loving family who have survived a horrific trauma and have had to re-build their lives a long way from their much loved home in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. 

“In the beginning we didn’t know Davis but he is such a sociable and friendly man and he respected our privacy, he respected our culture and traditions. We became very friendly with him in no time and he became like part of our family. Sometimes we would miss him and look forward to him coming back. We became very close. 

“Davis has a very nice family. We have a strong family and I believe that Davis has a very strong family too – his children, his wife, himself, they are a lovely family. So he knew the importance of family life and he knew the cultural differences and he respected them. 

“We felt like he was one of us. He is a man of honour. He’s like a Pashtun, one of us. And for us, it’s quite difficult because even though I’m a liberal man I’m still a Pashtun. But once we trust somebody we trust him like a brother and then our doors are open.

“I feel that the family is the basic unit of social life in our society and it has its own constitution and it has its own values – love and respect. And Malala grew up in a very positive, rich environment and that’s why she has rich values of caring for others and respecting others. 

“It is important when you respect human rights within the family. For example, if I don’t respect my wife’s rights, and if I dpn’t respect her, and then I talk about human rights in a broader sense that would be wrong. The change you want to see in the world starts at home with your family. So it started with our family and the values and the strength which Malala has was because of our strong family.”

The film also charts Zia’s passion for education. A teacher who opened several schools in the Swat Valley, he continued to educate young girls, including his daughter, in the face of mounting threats from the Taliban.

Malala was a precocious, fiercely intelligent child who, even as a toddler, was drawn to her father’s school. “I remember that right from the very beginning I could see in her eyes the intelligence, the wisdom and the beauty that she has. She was very critical – like she would make assessments of different things, making comparisons, and she was very smart.

“She had grown up around a school and she would go into a classroom and talk to the empty chairs. When the children and the teacher would leave the classroom she would come in and just talk to the chairs. She grew up in a school and she was very vocal right from the beginning and very intelligent and she is very clear about things, her perceptions are very clear.”

Like any other father, he had high hopes for his daughter. “I saw her as a very bright lady who would have all the opportunities to get a quality education and to go to the highest rung of the ladder in an educational career. 

“I was thinking that I would send her to Lahore in Pakistan where there is a very famous institution and I was thinking that she would maybe do a doctorate. I wasn’t clear exactly what she would do but I knew that her potential was enormous. 

“She wanted to become a doctor but I saw in her a great politician, a great leader. So that’s why there was conflict in Swat, I said to her ‘why not become a politician? Why not become a stateswoman? Because you have all the characteristics, all the leadership qualities that a leader should have...’ So that’s why I said ‘why not become a politician?’”

And what does the future hold for Malala, now 18? “What I want, what my wife wants, we want her to exist in our life. So whatever route she wants to choose I will support her and I will follow her because she is like a leader for many people and I am one of the followers. 

“She followed me when I was in Swat. I was a leader there and she was following me. She became interested in my activism, my small activism in the Swat Valley inspired her and she started simultaneously, but now the situation is very different and now she leads. 

“My wife and I will both support her whatever route she chooses. But one thing I am clear about is that she can make a change – we don’t know how, which way, through politics, through other means, but she can make positive change for education and for peace.  I think that’s her ultimate destination and whatever happens we will support her. Now she is 18 so we can’t talk about choices for her, she will make her own choices.”

Q/A follows:

Q: What was it like to watch your family’s story in this documentary?

A: Some parts of the film were very moving and some parts we weren’t comfortable with because our life is quite a difficult life – we have been through various difficult circumstances that you don’t like to see, but you have to see, because it’s our life story depicted. But I think Davis has made a very good film and he was the right person to do this documentary.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you were first approached by the producers, Laurie [MacDonald] and Walter, [Parkes]?

A: When Laurie and Walter first came and sat with us we didn’t quite know how it would work but during that discussion we knew that they wanted to make a film about our life story and Walter and Laurie were very passionate. And they themselves are very inspiring. When they heard our story they were so impressed and took so much interest in it that we too became inspired, and that’s how it started. So I appreciate both of them; their power to communicate and their power to convince us. When the book [I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban] came out we were approached by many people who wanted to make a film but we were unwilling because we didn’t know people here in this country. We were supported by very good friends but in the beginning it was difficult to trust people.  Walter and Laurie had the power to communicate and to reach to our hearts and minds and to motivate us to do this and so they were the reason we said yes.

Q: And then you had an 18-month period when Davis and his crew were filming. How did that work?

A: He would come often during that time. He didn’t stay overnight at our home but he would live with his crew in a nearby hotel. And he would come sometimes very early in the morning just to see us having breakfast [laughs]. He would film for three or four days and then he would disappear. Malala’s fund would share the itinerary for myself and Malala with the film team and they would choose where they would go and what they should pick up on so they would go with us to the UN, to Kenya, to Oslo, and they would choose the places. And they followed our ‘usual life’ – if I can call it that – with a lot of respect.

Q: So it was fly on the wall where they became part of your life…

A: In the beginning we didn’t know Davis and he looked very funny to me with his hair [laughs]. I told him ‘I like your long hair...’ and he laughed a lot. But on the one hand, Walter and Laurie are such amazing people and after meeting us they decided that the film should be a documentary, not actors playing us. They wanted real life depicted. And with Davis they choose the right person to do this. In the beginning we didn’t know Davis but he is such a sociable and friendly man and he respected our privacy, he respected our culture and traditions. We became very friendly with him in no time and he became like part of our family. Sometimes we would miss him and look forward to him coming back. We became very close. Davis has a very nice family. We have a strong family and I believe that Davis has a very strong family too – his children, his wife, himself, they are a lovely family. So he knew the importance of family life and he knew the cultural differences and he respected them. We felt like he was one of us. He is a man of honour. He’s like a Pashtun, one of us. And for us, it’s quite difficult because even though I’m a liberal man I’m still a Pashtun. But once we trust somebody we trust him like a brother and then our doors are open. 

Q: And the importance of family comes over very strongly in the film. It would be easy to just see Malala as a symbol but in this we see her as a daughter, a sister, a young girl…

A: I totally agree with you. I feel that the family is the basic unit of social life in our society and it has its own constitution and it has its own values – love and respect. And Malala grew up in a very positive, rich environment and that’s why she has rich values of caring for others and respecting others. It is important when you respect human rights within the family. For example, if I don’t respect my wife’s rights, and I don’t respect her, and then I talk about human rights in a broader sense that would be wrong. The change you want to see in the world starts at home with your family. So it started with our family and the values and the strength, which Malala has, was because of our strong family.

Q: What was Malala about as a young child?

A: I remember that right from the very beginning I could see in her eyes the intelligence, the wisdom and the beauty that she has. She was very critical – like she would make assessments of different things, making comparisons, and she was very smart. I remember one day at breakfast she said to me ‘do you know what colour you look like?’ I said, ‘no…’ And she said ‘you look like when we mix milk in the tea…’ And I thought that was wonderful. I used to enjoy her comments so much. She was about three then and she wasn’t even at school at that point. But she had grown up around a school and she would go into a classroom and talk to the empty chairs. When the children and the teacher would leave the classroom she would come in and just talk to the chairs. She grew up in a school and she was very vocal right from the beginning and very intelligent and she is very clear about things, her perceptions are very clear. 

Q: Before the attack, what kind of life did you dream about for her?

A: I think I saw her as a very bright lady who would have all the opportunities to get a quality education and to go to the highest rung of the ladder in an educational career. I was thinking that I would send her to Lahore in Pakistan where there is a very famous institution and I was thinking that she would maybe do a doctorate. I wasn’t clear exactly what she would do but I knew that her potential was enormous. She wanted to become a doctor but I saw in her a great politician, a great leader. So that’s why there was conflict in Swat, I said to her ‘why not become a politician? Why not become a stateswoman? Because you have all the characteristics, all the leadership qualities that a leader should have...’ So that’s why I said ‘why not become a politician?’

Q: And could that happen?

A: I don’t know because as a father we have gone beyond those things, to be honest. What I want, what my wife wants, we want her to exist in our life. So whatever route she wants to choose I will support her and I will follow her because she is like a leader for many people and I am one of the followers. She followed me when I was in Swat, I was a leader there and she was following me. She became interested in my activism, my small activism in the Swat Valley  inspired her and she started simultaneously but now the situation is very different and now she leads. My wife and I will both support her whatever route she chooses. But one thing I am clear about is that she can make a change – we don’t know how, which way, through politics, through other means, but she can make positive change for education and for peace. I think that’s her ultimate destination and whatever happens we will support her. Now she is 18 so we can’t talk about choices for her, she will make her own choices.

Q: And in many ways, she’s already made a powerful contribution with her organisation. Are you optimistic that education for girls around the world will improve?

A:  Yes, I am optimistic but we still need to persuade governments to spend more on education. The Malala Fund has three main objectives. The first one is advocacy, the second one is investment and the third one is to find the voices of other women’s rights and education activists. In the last couple of years Malala went to Nigeria to talk to the president Goodluck Jonathan [now former president of Nigeria] about the girls who were abducted [219 schoolgirls were abducted by Jihadist group Boko Haram in April 2014] and to talk to him about education because Nigeria is the worst in the world when it comes to education of girls – millions of children are not in school. And so that was part of her advocacy. And this year she went to America to talk to congressmen and asked them, demanded that they spend money on education, not on wars. She met the Prime Minister of Pakistan in Norway this year and told him that he had pledged 4 per cent [to education] but really that has not been increased and Pakistan is the second worst country when it comes to out of school children. So all this advocacy is being done but the world has to listen. Our organisation, and many other great organisations, are struggling day and night in the fight to send every child to school. Ultimately we will be successful and we will be able to put education at the top of the global agenda because we think it can change our world.

Q: In the film we saw that you were finding it hard to settle into a new country after the attack. What’s life in the UK like for you now? 

A: Yes, with the passage of time we are enjoying it more and especially my sons are very happy. My wife and I miss our country and in our dreams we are in Swat in Pakistan but we are here in the UK, so you can understand how that feels.

Q: The news often features Islam that is linked to terrorism. You are a religious family so how important was it to show a family of Muslims who are very much opposed to the extremism that we hear so much about?

A: It was a bad situation where everybody was scared, and we were scared too, but faith is more powerful than fear. And what we stand for is the right Islam. Islam allows girls’ education, women in power, rights for everybody regardless of class, creed or colour, so we believe in it. It’s what we learnt from Islam. Because of some bad guys and terrorist organisations, Islam has been blamed for terrorism and it has been defamed. But I think this is a Muslim family’s story. If they are so cruel that they can come for a girl and [try to] kill her and they claim they are Muslims, but we are a family of the same faith. Malala’s mother, while she is going to the hospital, she was thinking that the mother of the sons who attacked her, thatthey may be sadder than her because they did a wrong thing. And there is forgiveness in her heart. This is who we are and through our story I think people will be able to understand what Islam means.

Q: With hindsight and knowing what happened to Malala, would you still let her speak out?

A: When she was 13 it was difficult then to stop her and now she is 18 it would be impossible. I think the documentary explains things, about how we struggled, about we stood up for our rights and I hope that people who watch it will understand.

DAVIS GUGGENHEIM DIRECTS HE NAMED ME MALALA

For director Davis Guggenheim, He Named Me Malala is a universal story about a father and his daughter – a remarkable young woman who had the courage to speak out even when her life was threatened.

He Named Me Malala is an intimate, compelling portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban when returning home on a school bus in October 2012.

“For me, the most compelling part is this father/daughter story. I immediately walked in and said, ‘what it needs to be is not a local story. It needs to be a universal story.’ 

“I think for her and [her father] Ziauddin, the story is just beginning. Their work is not just about her, but about 66 million girls who don’t have school, who suffer in so many of the same ways they’ve suffered. They’re going to spend the rest of their lives doing that, and for me, that’s essential.”

Guggenheim was brought on to direct the project by producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes and after an initial meeting, was struck by the bond shared by Malala and her father.

Malala and her father, Ziauddin, a teacher, had spoken out against a Taliban ‘order’ forbidding girls attending school in their native Swat Valley in Pakistan. Miraculously, she survived the horrific attack and is now a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund.

Guggenheim hopes that his film will galvanize support for Malala Yousafzai’s campaign for education for girls all over the world. “Malala is the girl who was shot on her school bus, and that could have been the end of her story but in many ways it was the beginning,” he says. “In the movie it’s so beautiful when she says, ‘I’ve been given a new life, and this life is a sacred life.’ 

Guggenheim made the Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth [2006] about former vice president Al Gore’s campaign to put climate change at the top of the political agenda. He hopes that He Named Me Malala can have the same impact.

“I’ve had this great privilege of making movies that aren’t just movies,” he says. “Millions of people saw An Inconvenient Truth in America, millions of people saw it in the rest of the world, and a generation of people became engaged in climate change. 

“Now, it wasn’t the only thing, obviously. It was just a movie, and that movie was just one small piece, but to me that’s the most exciting thing – what a movie can do in the world. It can mean engaging a generation of people, and I think this movie has the same opportunity. What if you made a movie that a girl in Los Angeles and her father would go to, or a girl in Japan and her father would go to, or a girl in London with her parents? “

“It is universal, the idea of an inspiring father and a girl who has the courage to speak out. This story can reach everybody, and it can make real global change.

An Inconvenient Truth is required viewing in several countries. Several countries have said, ‘you cannot graduate unless you’ve seen it.’ That’s fantastic, and I think this movie is certainly relevant to someone who is interested in the politics of the global south, but I think it will be very relevant to a girl in Europe who has a great school, but maybe does not feel confident to speak out. 

“It’s certainly relevant to my own daughters. I have two daughters – 14, and 9 and they have a good, safe, school, but they struggle with many things that many girls around the world struggle with. 

“Do they feel equal? Do they feel confident to speak out? To me, making this film was very meaningful, because I was also making it for them. I think that girls in England, and other girls around the world who do have safe schools, will find this very relevant to them. 

“Also, I think fathers will wonder whether they can do more to make their daughters feel as strong and as equal and as brave as Malala.”

Filmed over two years, Guggenheim and his team started out by winning the trust of Ziauddin, Malala and their family. It took time, he admits.

“Over time, they got to know me and I got to know them. I believe I gained their trust, but it took time. They’re such an extraordinary family but in so many ways just like mine.”

For the family, telling their story was another way of letting the world know what is happening in their country, and others, where young girls are being denied education. 

“They told their story in Pakistan because they had an urgent need. Their town was under siege and the Taliban was intimidating people for going to school, and they eventually shut down their school and were blowing up schools.

“They felt compelled to tell their story to the world so that people would see what was happening, so telling their story was their way of taking action, whereas here, in America or in England, maybe it’s an act of vanity or an act of persuasion. 

“For them it was an act of necessity, so when I came, I think telling their story was a continuation of that. If suddenly their story could be turned into a movie that the world could see, it was a continuation of their mission.”

Spending time with Malala, and her family, was a privilege, he says. “I’ve made movies about the President of the United States, the Vice-President of the United Stated, Barack Obama, Al Gore, rock-stars, weirdly about a lot of people who are famous and who we think we know, and sometimes the more you get to know people, the more they disappoint you, because they become human. 

“Every time I’m with Malala and Ziadduin they impress me more. They are such intelligent people – they are curious, they are worldly, they are spiritually very deep and they are hilariously funny. After I see them, I come home to my own family and I feel inspired. My skin is buzzing from the experience of being with them because they are so extraordinary.”

Guggenheim was born in St. Louis, Missouri. His films include An Inconvenient Truth, A Mother’s Promise: Barack Obama Bio Film, It Might Get Loud, The Tower, Waiting For ‘Superman’, Widow Detective, From The Sky Down and Teach.


Q&A

Q: How did this project come to you? 

A: Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes were chosen among many people who wanted the rights to the book. They met Malala and the family, and immediately after they left the house, they said to each other, ‘these people are so extraordinary, who could play them as actors?’ So they thought, ‘this should be a documentary.’ So when they arrived home in LA they called me. We had met previously through friends and I think they had seen a movie I made, called Waiting for Superman, which was about education, and so they asked me to consider directing it. 

Q: What was your first reaction?

A: It’s interesting, I had read what most people had read – the Time magazine article, and I saw The New York Times short documentaries. But after they called me, I read more deeply. I realized that their story was even more interesting and more extraordinary than people understood. That there were important themes to Malala’s life that hadn’t yet been explored. 

Q: When did they approach you?

A: This was May 2013. It was weeks before her UN speech. In fact, when I first met her she was still working on the speech. She shared it with me, and I saw her in her small office working on it.

Q: What was your way in to such a big story?

A: For me, the most compelling part is this father/daughter story. I immediately thought ‘this needs to be a universal story.’ What if you made a movie that a girl in Los Angeles and her father would go to, or a girl in Japan and her father would go to, or a girl in London with her parents? This is universal, the idea of an inspiring father and a girl who has the courage to speak out. To me, if you do that, the story can reach everybody, and it can make real global change – not just a local story.

Q: There’s a palpable sense of how the attack on Malala could have been the end of her story.

A: It could be the end of her story or the beginning of her story. Like it or not, she’s now become a symbol. Malala is the girl who was shot on her school bus, and that could have been the end of her story but in many ways it was the beginning. In the movie it’s so beautiful when she says, ‘I’ve been given a new life, and this life is a sacred life.’ I think for her and Ziauddin, the story is just beginning – their work is not just about her, but about 66 million girls who don’t have school, who suffer in so many of the of the same ways that they’ve suffered. They’re going to spend the rest of their lives doing that, and for me, that’s inspiring.

Q: What role does your film play in that mission?

A: I’ve had this great privilege of making movies that aren’t just movies. Millions of people saw An Inconvenient Truth in America, millions of people saw it in the rest of the world, and a generation of people became engaged in climate change. Now, it wasn’t the only thing obviously. It was just a movie, and that movie was just one small piece, but to me that’s the most exciting part of telling a story like this– seeing what a movie can do to inspire the world. It can mean engaging a generation of people, and I think this movie has the same opportunity.

Q: Do you think this will be shown in schools in the same way that An Inconvenient Truth is?

A: An Inconvenient Truth is required viewing in several countries. Several countries have said, ‘you cannot graduate unless you’ve seen it.’ That’s fantastic, and I think this movie is certainly relevant to someone who is interested in the politics of the global south, but I think it will be very relevant to a girl in Europe who has a great school, but maybe does not feel confident to speak out. It’s certainly relevant to my own daughters. I have two daughters – 14, and 9, and they have a good, safe, school, but they struggle with many things that many girls around the world struggle with. Do they feel equal? Do they feel confident to speak out? To me, making this film is very meaningful, because I was also making it for them. I think that for girls in England, and other girls around the world who do have safe schools, this will still be very relevant to them. Also, I think fathers will wonder whether they can do more to make their daughters feel as strong and as equal and as brave as Malala.

Q: Tell me about your first meeting with the family.

A: I knocked on the door of their house in Birmingham. I remember I took a cab there. It was very important to me not to bring a big film crew. I brought just a sound person, and I said, ‘we’re going to start very simply. We’re going to start just you and I sitting here, and we’re going to do an interview with no cameras, just the sound. Just so we can get to know each other first and explore what we think is interesting.’ I did that with Malala for a couple of hours and Ziadduin for a couple of hours. Over time, as we filmed with a larger crew, they got to know me and I got to know them. I believe I gained their trust, but it took time. They’re such an extraordinary family. In a world where everybody is taking a selfie, and everyone is conscious of how they look because everybody is taking pictures of each other and the pictures are on Instagram or Facebook, they were not closed off, they were not self-conscious, and that comes through in the movie. They were very open to me, very open to my film crew, and they were very eager to tell their story, and I think that’s very rare, in this day and age.

Q: How big was your film crew once you were up and running?

A: Very small. We started with sound-only interviews, me alone with them, and those sound interviews became the heart of the movie. When you see the animation in the movie, you just hear their voices. It was very important to me that the feeling was very intimate, and almost introspective. Then, after that, we would film with a very small crew. It would be four or five people.

Q: Why do you think they were so open to having their story told?

A: When they were in Pakistan they told their story because it was urgent. Their town was under siege and the Taliban was intimidating people for going to school, and they eventually shut down their school and were blowing up schools. They felt compelled to tell their story to the world so that people would see what was happening. So for Malala and Zia telling their story was taking action, whereas here, in America or in England, maybe it’s an act of vanity or an act of persuasion. For them it was an act of necessity, so when I came, I think telling their story was a continuation of that. If their story could be turned into a movie that the world could see, it was a continuation of their mission.

Q: Did Malala surprise you?

A: Always. I’ve made movies about the President of the United States, the Vice-President of the United States, Barack Obama, Al Gore, rock-stars, weirdly about a lot of people who are famous and who we think we know, and sometimes the more you get to know people, the more they disappoint you, because they become human. Every time I’m with Malala and Ziadduin they impress me more. They are such intelligent people – they are curious, they are worldly, they’re spiritually very deep and they are hilariously funny. After I see them, I come home to my own family and I’m inspired. My skin is buzzing from the experience of being with them because they are so extraordinary.

Q: Do you think they will ever be able to go back to Pakistan?

A: I’m not the person to ask. In the movie, I say to Malala, ‘You don’t like to talk about your suffering.’ She avoids the question, and I say, ‘You’re avoiding my question.’ She says, ‘Of course I am.’ They don’t ever want to feel like they suffer, because there are still people in Pakistan who are suffering even more. But make no mistake: they are living in exile. There is no place they would rather be then their home in Pakistan. Ziauddin built beautiful schools there, and he can’t go back and do the thing he loves, which is to teach. I think the minute they can go, they will.

Q: Malala was clearly an extremely precocious child, but did you ever get the sense that she was speaking on her father’s behalf?

A: She obviously was very bright and just born with great intellectual power. There’s this moment in the movie, which goes by pretty quickly, but Ziauddin says that he’d be in his meetings in their home, and unlike many kids, she would come as a little girl and sit on the floor and listen. Most kids would want to go out and play, but she was kind of a sponge. This is my interpretation, because of course I wasn’t there, but he says she would sit on the floor and listen. So there’s something about how she was very bright, but also fed off of his life, and his life choices. He describes it as one soul with two different bodies. Clearly there was this attachment between them very early on, and they were very bonded, so there was something special there that I hope comes through in the movie. It’s shown but not described. But anyone who meets Malala gets the very strong sense that she is her own woman. 

Q: Can Malala ever just be a young girl?

A: Malala was thrust into a very serious life at a young age. But they have such a tight-knit family. Toor Pekai and Ziauddin have made a beautiful home with Malala, Atal and Khushal, the brothers, and you see it in the movie. They’re very loving with each other, and they have a very tight bond. There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of joy, and a strong sense that they are in this together and that gives me hope.
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