The Knockturnal had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable chat with the director and producers of the inspiring new Fox Searchlight documentary “He Named Me Malala.” The film hits theaters on Oct. 2.
Read highlights below!
What was different in the making of this film compared to others?
We talked about the importance of the external story, but this is where we wanted to get inside the family, a more personal side of it that none of us have seen on the news.
I think when you’re making a movie about someone that people think they know, they bring with it, the baggage of what they know. I was that person. I knew her as the person that got shot on the school bus. But that’s not who she is. Characters are defined by the choices they make, and Malala makes this very brave choice to speak out in what she believes and her father makes a choice to let her. So she’s really in my mind, not a hero because she was shot on the school bus, but the opposite of how you should know her. You should know her as a courageous girl who thought that her voice mattered, who was courageous enough to speak out.
How do you think the Pakistanis will react to this film?
There’s a conspiracy part of it, which is crazy, but the sense that because it was a story that was very shameful to them. You’re not proud of that in your country, this child was shot. I kind of understand, putting myself in the shoes of the culture, feeling like why is Western media going back to the story over and over again, if you think about it, there’s a way to understand why they’re sensitive to it. Is it a way of celebrating her, and a way of shaming us and Islam and our culture? So I get it, and I think it’s understandable. I hope now that we are beyond and away from the event, she’s become such an important leader, and she can speak so beautifully for their culture that I think that tide will change.
I was in Toronto at a film festival and I was leaving an event at midnight, I got picked up in a taxi and it was a guy from Pakistan. He’s Pashtun, and he asked, did you make a movie here? I said, “Yeah I made this documentary about Malala.”
He says, “Oh. She’s an agent of the CIA.”
I say, “Really? Tell me more!” He goes on this sort of construct, and I said, I just spent the past two years filming with her and this is what I saw: She lives in Birmingham, she goes to school, I was in refugee camps with her, with Muslim children. I ask, do you want to see the movie tomorrow? Here’s two tickets and he thanked me so much and he said you don’t pay for this cab ride. Pashtunwali. It’s the powers of movies. I saw him the next day with his wife.
How has being immersed in the film and that world changed your lives?
Speaking personally, I’m not sure it changed my life as much as confirmed something that you try to commit to and often don’t … We don’t make movies to make the world a better place. We certainly try to do no harm. But every now and then, you make a movie that can actually do something for the world and I think that making this movie, seeing the response, having the opportunity to get to know these people, having the opportunity to understand Islam better, it was so enriching, that it pushed me towards a more active sense. Maybe you can do better than do no harm, maybe you can go find projects that you can do something.
So I’m sitting at the kitchen table, I have a son and two daughters, and I’m reading the paper. I go, hey Miles, look at this! I look at my daughter and she says, “Why didn’t you ask me?”[Ziauddin Yousafzai], 7,000 miles away, has challenged the way I was a father in a fundamental way. There’s some simple truth that has come out of this story. Simple ideas like school is liberation that we forget. The idea that girls are equal to boys. I can say that my daughters are equal but I do act on it? Zia, not only said it, but he believed it. But he acts on it. He takes that family tree, draws a line and writes a name. Do I do that? At this very fragile moment where my daughter is 14, it really challenged me. How great is that?