SHAFAQNA – Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Laureate and the global face of the fight to ensure girls’ rights to education, was in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night ahead of a UAE preview of the inspirational film He Named Me Malala.
“My basic message is about education, and that is linked to Islam because the Taliban use the name of Islam to stop girls from school,” Malala, 18, told an audience at the Emirates Palace hotel. “I am trying to spread the message of people having independence, education and identity in society.
“My focus is on education right now, and Islam does believe in it and allows it.”
The film, partly produced by Abu Dhabi company Image Nation, tells the story of the girl who became an international activist after being shot in the face by a Taliban hitman for defying their ban on young women in schools.
That attack in October 2012 led to an even more committed campaign for the right of girls to attend school – and to her last year becoming the youngest recipient of the peace prize.
Malala said making the movie was “a great part” of her life. “Education and raising the voice for me, my family and this cause – the message that we have is that we should also share and we had great fun together,” she said.
Malala said she particularly enjoyed the animation sequences in the film telling the story of her family. But she joked that her brothers were given too much screen time to say “everything they could against me”.
Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai – the “He” in the film title – said international media sometimes painted an ugly picture of Islam.
“With education, the very first world of the Quran is ‘Iqra’, or read. There is no specification, it’s for everybody, so we hope that will send a very powerful message to the world,” Ziauddin said. “People want to live with harmony, love, with respect, and that is what we know from Islam.”
He said he hoped the film and his daughter’s message would “wash away the all those bad pictures. How much we succeed, we don’t know”.
Director Davis Guggenheim said the film opened his eyes to the true nature of Islam.
“I spent time with this beautiful family and they taught me more about forgiveness and being a good father,” Guggenheim said.
“Malala taught me to speak up for what I believe, to always be honest.”
Guggenheim said he focused on telling a human story amid struggle, not on the political conflicts that led to Malala’s shooting.
“I decided to make a very personal movie, looking through the eyes of a girl and her father,” he said. “The movie is told from their point of view, it is very experiential and very personal.
“Sometimes, we forget that human beings are also involved in conflict. It is very important to understand to raise your voice, despite the political side that you are on.”
Michael Garin, chief executive of Image Nation, said his company aimed to support important films that did not push a political agenda.
Guggenheim said the movie showed the UAE’s support for education and gender equality.
“And that came through in the making of the movie,” he said.
“Image Nation was the best partner we could have, because as we were making the movie we had many questions on how to make it right, and Image Nation gave us insightful notes on how to make that and reach an audience for the whole world.”
Producer Laurie MacDonald said the film showed “a powerful story of a Muslim family”, to counter negative images portrayed by the media.
“From a very early point we felt that obviously the message was of education, which is Malala’s main mission, but also the powerful story of a Muslim family especially to a western audience,” MacDonald said.
The movie will be released in UAE cinemas on November 5.