(NEW YORK) — Malala Yousafzai is an international activist, bestselling author and the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. Now she has a new title on her resume: movie star.
He Named Me Malala, a documentary film that opens nationwide Friday, traces the arc of Malala’s life — from her childhood in Pakistan, to the Taliban’s assassination attempt when she was 15 years old and her courageous stand for girls’ education worldwide despite continued death threats.
Recently Yousafzai, 18, sat down for an interview with Good Morning America news anchor Amy Robach at a library in the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) in Manhattan. She was joined by her father, Ziauddin and Oscar-winning film director Davis Guggenheim (who is also Robach’s brother-in-law).
Robach asked the teen whether it was easy to forgive her Taliban attackers.
“Before the attack I had a little bit fear that ‘What if I’m attacked? What would happen? How would I feel?’” she said. “But after the attack I realized that now no one can stop me and I can now speak not just [for] people in Swat Valley or Pakistan, but [for] children across the world … I felt stronger than before. They made a mistake.”
A REAL-LIFE TEENAGE GIRL
Throughout the film, Malala is frequently shown bickering with her younger brothers. She describes the little one, 9-year year-old Atal, as “a really good boy,” but of 14-year-old Khushal, she says, he is “the laziest one.” And when Khushal describes his older sister as “the naughtiest girl in the world,” she promptly beats him at arm wrestling.
It’s one of several moments that show Malala not just a hero –- but a real-life teenage girl.
Robach asked Malala why she trusted Guggenheim to see her, flaws and all.
“I trusted him and I thought he was going to be more (about) how good I am,” Malala answered, adding jokingly: “And then what came out was that my brothers were just speaking against me.”
In one scene, Malala wonders out loud whether the students at her high school like her. She says that even though she has met rock stars and celebrities — even England’s Queen Elizabeth — she still has to do homework, just like every student.
“To be honest I don’t feel comfortable in my new school. My skirt is longer than most of the girls and then my life is quite different than their life,” she said, adding that most of her peers have already had boyfriends. “It’s quite difficult to tell girls who really I am.”
In another scene, Malala is shown looking up various celebrities online, including actor Brad Pitt, tennis player Roger Federer, and cricket star Shane Watson. She insists she’s just a fan, and when pressed about whether she would ever ask a boy out she answers that she couldn’t because her parents would be so surprised.
When asked if she dates or has a boyfriend, Malala replied: “”I don’t have much time. My focus is on my education. Being with my family, my friends and doing this campaign.””
Malala’s campaign –- to ensure that every child gets 12 years of schooling -– has taken her around the world.
The film shows her at a girls’ school in Kenya, where she describes her life in the Swat Valley and asks students what they want to be when they grow up. In Nigeria, she meets with the parents of schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram, and she celebrates her 18th birthday by opening a school for Syrian refugees at a refugee camp on the Lebanese border.
“I want to build more schools like that,” Malala told Robach, adding that world leaders should bear responsibility to see that every child goes to school.
Guggenheim said he hopes daughters will take their fathers to see the movie.
“I think they’ll learn that any girl anywhere can do something if Malala can do it,” he said.
The film, which took two years to make, is in many ways a love story between Malala and her father Ziauddin, a schoolteacher in their small village in Swat. He described making the movie as “a healing process” that helped their family move on from “the worst trauma in life.”
“We are one soul with two bodies,” he said of his relationship with his only daughter. “But the beauty of this bond is freedom. I respect her freedom and she respects my freedom.”
“A bit,” Malala interjected, laughing. “We have a lot of fights, arguments all the time.”
“When she challenges me, as a father I become happy,” Ziauddin told Robach. “If she can’t challenge me, then how can she challenge the world?”
Ziauddin named his daughter after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun warrior from Afghanistan who rallied fighters against the British troops, but his daughter said she chose her mission.
“I’m here, standing on this stage, becoming the voice of children. It’s all my choice. And I want to spread this message because I want women and girls to be independent in deciding their life on their own, and — to believe that their decisions really matter,” she said. “Through the film we want to call people to take action and to join us to ensure that every child has the right to go to school … to turn this movie into a movement.”
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