“It is better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for 100 years”
Narrated animation tells the ancient Pashtun story of Malalai of Maiwand. Ziauddin Yousafzai named his baby daughter after the Pashtun heroine who was killed for speaking out. Her very name embodies a sense of destiny, but it was just one part of the jigsaw of values laid out for Malala by her parents.
Ziauddin taught Malala to raise her voice and rebel against customs and traditions. He demonstrated overcoming adversity (he’s a powerful and influential public speaker despite having a stammer) and showed how to stand up for what is right to the girl who at the age of 15 would be shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to suggests that girls needed to go to school.
There are remarkable scenes (which invade Malala’s privacy) captured in the ambulance and in hospital immediately after the shooting. Through interviews at the family’s new home in the UK, following Malala on trips abroad and using archive footage the film’s audience piece together the timeline leading up to the attack, and the Yousafzai family’s life since the attack on 9 October 2012.
Ziauddin set up and ran a school for girls. He felt it would be “sinful” not to speak out about the Taliban’s suppression of female education. When schools came under attack, Malala and her family became refugees in their own country, displaced from home in the Swat Valley.
Under a pseudonym, Malala wrote a blog about education in Pakistan for the BBC Urdu service. But it wasn’t enough. When Ziauddin gave his daughter the opportunity to speak out in her own name and she grasped the chance. He knew the risks but never expected the Taliban to try to kill a child.
“There is a moment when you have to choose to be silent or to step up”
Did her father make this choice for her? “No”, she says.
“My father only gave me the name Malalai. He didn’t make me Malalai. I chose this life.”She dismisses any need for anger even though nerve damage has affected one side of her face: “Islam teaches us humanity, equality, forgiveness”.
Malala carries physical scars from the attack. She introduces cinema goers to her friends on the bus who were also injured in the shooting. The girl who has honorary degrees and has been on the front of TIME magazine has an incredibly private side and teasing (and being teased by) her two younger brothers, worries about only getting 61% in Physics and is incredibly bashful about even talking about cultural taboos like asking a boy out. She finds it “quite difficult to tell [her fellow school] girls who I really am”.
Yet in an instant she switches from watching Minions on a tablet to answering questions on the phone about the threats to her life if she returned to Pakistan. In conversation with world leaders the spirited girl takes the opportunity to pointedly question US President Obama about drone strikes encouraging extremism, and while visiting Nigeria to highlight the school girls abducted by Boko Haram she fearlessly told Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to take responsibility and “listen to his people”.
It’s an extraordinary juxtaposition. A profound world leader who we watch studying for her GCSEs, mixing rockstars and homework. Conservative, shy and reserved … yet given a microphone and put in front of a crowd, through clear delivery, pace and a waving finger she is a professional orator with a message she wants to impart.
The (joint) winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is aware that her own story is not unique. And the millions of girls deprived of education drives her to share her story for their benefit.
Speaking about Living Well with Gender and Power at last Friday night’s gala celebration of Corrymeela’s 50th anniversary, the US Peace Institute’s Kathleen Kuehnast referred to this film:
In this regard, most of us have heard of the remarkable courage of Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist for girls’ education.As a father with a young daughter I found the film challenging as I learnt how Ziauddin’s actions had threatened Malala’s life. Was the education of girls in Pakistan more important than his own daughter’s safety? What kind of a father was he? By the end of the film I realised I was more and more convinced that he’s a good role model worth examining further.
This month a movie on her life comes out: He Named Me Malala. The “He” in the title refers to her father, and this is important as we often do not tell the story of Malala’s father and his persistence as well as courage to defy all of the social norms pertaining to fathers and men in a highly conservative area of Pakistan.
Men need to be a part of the change on gender equality, and not be kept apart in a separate silo.
He Named Me Malala opens tonight at the Queen’s Film Theatre and runs until Thursday 12 November.