Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban after advocating for women’s rights, made her Hollywood debut at the premiere of Fox Searchlight’s documentary “He Named Me Malala” at New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday night. Flashing a big smile, Malala proudly walked down the red carpet with a delegation of girl leaders from developing nations by her side and remained unfazed by the glitz and glamour.
“People here tonight supporting me, my father and the film is the biggest honor,” Malala told Variety moments before the screening. “I’m hopeful this film will spread the message about how important it is for girls and for every child to have an education. We can all create change. I’m an ordinary girl no different than any other girl, but I choose not to be silent. I choose to speak up and raise my voice for equality. All of us can use our voices to fight for equality and education.”
Directed by Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”), “He Named Me Malala” is a candid look inside Malala’s life and the relationship with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a school teacher. He is the one responsible for instilling her passion for education and igniting a fire to fight against injustice.
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“My father is one of my biggest inspirations,” said Malala, who turned 18 in July and lives in Birmingham, England with her parents and two younger brothers. “He is the one who taught me to stand up and to fight. Change matters and you have to continue to fight and to never give up.”
The film also chronicles not only the milestone moments in her life – such as becoming the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and speaking at the United Nations – but also her experiences at home with her brothers and at school.
“Malala is the juxtaposition of a remarkable, singular, charismatic global leader and a completely ordinary teenage girl,” producer Laurie MacDonald told Variety. “She was insecure about being at a new school, worried about how she was going to do on the science test and she fights with her brother. She moves very fluidly through both worlds. It’s not as though she’s putting on an act when she speaks. She’s such a natural orator and so good at distilling an idea, but she’s also just like every girl in the world.”
Guggenheim spent two years with Malala to create the documentary and said his time with her was the “greatest privilege of my life.” He is confident that the young humanitarian’s work will have an impact around the world.
“Girls everywhere can learn from Malala’s story. When you speak out and you risk everything, the world will listen,” he said. “When you believe, you can do anything and that’s a great message for the world. The girls who will see this movie will say, ‘If I believe in myself, I can do great things too.”
Following the screening, Scarlett Johansson and her husband Romain Dauriac; Guggenheim’s wife Elizabeth Shue; Andrew Shue and his wife, ABC journalist Amy Robach; Alicia Keys; and Ivanka Trump were among the guests that gave Malala a standing ovation as she and her father entered the auditorium for a Q&A. Amina J. Mohammed, a Special Adviser to the United Nation’s Secretary-General, joined the Q&A telling the audience that Malala will address the United Nations on Friday after Pope Francis about adopting a 15-year global sustainable development agenda for education.
When Guggenheim asked Malala’s father what he and his wife did to raise such a passionate teenager who broke all the social traditions of their Muslim society, Ziauddin told the audience he had nothing to do with what made Malala the brave girl she is today.
“People ask me what’s the secret to being a good father and I say, ‘Don’t ask me what I did, ask me what I did not do,” he explained. “I did not clip her wings. I let her be her.”
Malala’s voice continues to resonate around the world. She said there is lots of work to be done and urged the audience to dream big.
“Dreaming means thinking bigger. Make sure that you don’t put limits on yourself,” she told the crowd. “I have noticed that when girls reach a certain age they start putting limits on themselves. They start dreaming smaller. Even when it comes to world leaders, they start dreaming smaller. They are not dreaming big enough. When you are a child you dream bigger. You have no limit. You believe you can do anything, you can achieve anything and that’s what I tell world leaders today. Be a child for a moment and dream big as you can. To ensure that children in the world get a quality 12-year free education — that is my dream.”
Malala and her father skipped the film’s after-party hosted by 21st Century Fox held at the Museum of Modern Art where guests enjoyed cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres. Guggenheim and his wife chatted with friends while James Murdoch mingled with 21st Century Fox execs.
“He Named Me Malala” opens wide on Oct. 9.
|James Murdoch with Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula|
(Pictured at top: Ziauddin Yousafzai and daughter Malala Yousafzai at the New York premiere of “He Named Me Malala”)