‘I’m an activist and a storyteller’: Malala wants to further brown representation in Hollywood

‘I’m an activist and a storyteller’: Malala wants to further brown representation in Hollywood

"If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of colour," says the young activist.
28 Sep, 2022

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai may be an author and an activist but she’s also a young woman who loves binge-watching, just like everyone else. And much like everyone else, she also likes seeing representation on her TV screen.

In an exclusive interview with Variety for its Power of Women celebration, she talked about her likes and dislikes and how she enjoyed Stranger Things recently, especially the antics of Dustin Henderson. She also discussed her growing interest in the entertainment sphere as well as her political interests.

Yousafzai may talk about some serious stuff when she campaigns for girls’ right to education, but she’s also a Netflix addict like the rest of us. Yousafzai, who grew up in the Swat Valley, told the publication that she is a TV enthusiast who watched shows like Mind Your Language and Ugly Betty in order to improve her English speaking skills and to decipher Western culture.

She’s now making TV more than a hobby — she’s a producer and has her own company Extracurricular Productions. “I want my name to be there in TV shows, documentaries and movies,” she said.

“When I fill out forms that ask for a profession, I always struggle, because I’m trying to figure out what my role is. I feel like I’m an activist and a storyteller. I’ve been doing activism for more than a decade now, and I’ve realised that we shouldn’t limit activism to the work of NGOs only: There’s also the element of changing people’s minds and perspectives — and that requires a bit more work,” said the 25-year-old.

She expressed that one day she hopes to work with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie who is known for her work not only as an actor but as a humanitarian and how she’d “love to do” something with her, either a documentary or film through which they could “share the experiences of children, refugees or of women and girls”.

Last year, Yousafzai signed a multiyear programming pact with Apple TV+ in order to bring dramas, comedies, documentaries, animation, and children’s series to the table, to inspire people around the world.

“You’re often told in Hollywood, implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are too young, too brown or too Muslim, or that if one show about a person of colour is made, then that’s it — you don’t need to make another one. That needs to change,” Yousafzai said.

“I’m a woman, a Muslim, a Pashtun, a Pakistani and a person of colour. And I watched Succession, Ted Lasso and Severance, where the leads are white people — and especially a lot of white men. If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of colour, and produced and directed by people of colour, with people of colour in the lead. That is possible, and I’m gonna make it happen.”

She added that she hopes to bring the voices of women of colour to the table and debut Muslim writers and directors. She also hopes to challenge some stereotypes that are present in society but most of all, she wants to make sure the content she brings forward is entertaining and that “people fall in love with the characters and have the best time together.”

Yousafzai said she wants to share the stories of refugees. When she goes to a refugee camp and meets the people, she said her goal is not to be their “ambassador or representative” as they can speak for themselves, but to “bring attention so that the camera is shifted towards them.”

In her book I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, she hinted at a future in politics and maybe her return to Pakistan but as a leader instead of an activist. She graduated two years ago from Oxford University with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics — the same course that has produced at least four British prime ministers.

When asked about her future, she told Variety, “I don’t want to get into British politics for sure”. Yousafzai added that the activism is for girls’ education and gender equality, which one way or the other launches her in politics. “I’m not sure if I’ll become the prime minister of a country. We’ll see in the future. Maybe that is also a political answer.”

October 9 will mark 10 years since Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban at the age of 15. The militants claimed responsibility for attacking her when she was on her way back from school in Mingora and blamed her pro-peace, anti-Taliban and ‘secular’ agenda.