He Named Me Malala: The girl behind the name | Virgin Media
He Named Me Malala: The girl behind the name

He Named Me Malala: The girl behind the name



She’s a Nobel Prize laureate, a worldwide symbol of human rights activism and one of the loudest and most respected voices in the campaigns for gender equality and education for all. So it’s hard to believe that only four years have passed since the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai on her way to school in an attempt on her life. She was only 15.

But how much more of Malala’s story do you know? From her early life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, to her new role on the world stage, He Named Me Malala – showing on Tuesday 1st March at 9pm on  National Geographic Channel – fills in the gaps. The feature-length documentary shows that firstly, she’s just a normal teenage girl studying for exams and teasing her two younger brothers. But she’s also wise beyond her years, growing up admiring her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai’s, work as an educator and developing a bond with him that has informed and inspired the courageous decisions she has made as a young campaigner.

We sat down with Ziauddin and the film’s producer Walter F Parkes to get an insight into how the documentary came to be made, and the impact it is still having around the world.

The family had to tell their own story

With a story this personal and significant, it was the film everyone wanted to make. And when Parkes and his wife and co-producer Laurie MacDonald read a book proposal for Malala’s memoir, I Am Malala, in early 2013, they knew they needed to meet with the Yousafzais. As Walter explains, “We saw themes in the material that transcended the information that we have associated with the story.”

Producer Walter F. Parkes

Producer Walter F. Parkes

While Parke and McDonald have worked on huge movies like Gladiator, Men In Black and Catch Me If You Can, it was their adaptation of The Kite Runner that got them thinking about filming Malala’s story. But when they travelled to meet the family in Birmingham, it led to a sleepless night wondering, who they could cast to play this inspiring girl. The answer of course was no one. Walter decided, “this should be this family telling their story in conjuncture with a great film director”. They agreed that Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth – available now on Netflix) was the man for the job.

This is not just the story of one girl. It’s the story of millions of girls

Malala’s father Ziauddin – UN Special Advisor on Global Education, Education Attaché at Pakistan’s Consulate in Birmingham, and a leader at the Malala Fund charity – was looking to work with people who were invested in the same messages, and had the same goals as him and his family. “I felt – and I was right – that he believed in our story and what we stand for,” Ziauddin explains. “Malala was known as a girl who was shot by the Taliban. But they didn’t know why she was shot, and this film tells that story. She was shot because she was standing for the right of education.” But Ziauddin also wanted to ensure the documentary’s significance reverberated far and wide. “This is not just the story of one girl, it’s the story of millions of girls who are out of school, and the story of millions of refugees as well. The message is universal.”

One book and one pen can change the world

Since the film’s release in 2015, both Ziauddin and Walter can see the impact it is still having now – and, more importantly, how it can continue to help propel the campaign for universal education forwards. As Walter says, “If this film is able to change the attitude of a handful of parents, to identify girls in different countries who now have a positive role model, and inspire those, who knows where the next Malala will come from?”

Malala’s father Ziauddin

Malala’s father Ziauddin

Ziauddin’s eyes remain firmly on the goals that he, Malala and the Malala Fund have set for the future. “We believe that unless and until every boy and every girl is in school we will not be at rest. So it’s a long way to go, but I’m very optimistic. But this film and the story and the book [I Am Malala] have made a moment. It’s like a chain and it’s multiplying.”

Malala’s story as told in the documentary is touching, eye-opening and incredibly inspiring. But why do they think it continues to have such resonance? For Ziauddin, it’s because, “this story is not about the politics, it’s about the basic, human sentiment. Basic human needs. Basic human passion. Every girl needs education. Every father should support his daughter. Every mother should support her daughter. Every father and mother should believe in equality within their family and sons and daughters.”

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