Malala Yousafzai Tells Young Girls to "Speak Up" at ‘He Named Me Malala’ NYC Premiere

He Named Me Malala Event - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

He Named Me Malala Event - H 2015

The teenage icon and advocate for children's education spoke at the New York premiere of the film.

Everyone knows that Malala Yousafzai is not afraid to speak up for herself. The 18-year-old has received accolades including the Nobel Peace Prize for her work advocating education for children across the world. When she was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to argue that young women should be educated, she immediately became a hero as well as a target for her ideas.

But at the New York premiere of the documentary He Named Me Malala, the young icon proved she can speak up for herself no matter what the situation. Director Davis Guggenheim spoke with Malala and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, after a screening of the film at the Ziegfeld Theatre, and Malala told the audience to listen to everything in the film except what her two brothers said. Guggenheim simply proceeded to the next question.

“Are you ignoring my comment?” Malala responded, to which Guggenheim remarked that he liked her younger brothers. “I have to live with them for my whole life! He’s happy in his home,” Malala joked. “It’s me who’s in trouble, who’s going through the problems every day.”

While Malala's personal struggles are showcased in the film, the main focus is on her family life and her relationship with her father. When asked how the film, which has played at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival and will be released in theaters Oct. 2, has changed the Yousafzais' lives, Ziauddin responded that he’s happy the world can see Malala as a normal girl.

“Malala was known to the world before this, but nobody knew about her life at home,” he told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet before the premiere. “So this tells some of her life at home with her mother and father and brothers. People now know who she is as a normal girl so it is very important, because if people don’t know this, she remains just a girl who was shot by the Taliban and the girl who got the Nobel and that’s it.”

Ziauddin says he’s most proud of his daughter for her continued commitment to her education throughout her many responsibilities, from writing her book to speaking at the United Nations, and notes that she got straight As on her exams.

Producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald initially read a proposal for Malala's book and thought it might be a narrative film. They met with the Yousafzais in Birmingham, England, where the family lives after fleeing Pakistan's Swat District.

“While they felt comfortable with the proposal, we left the meeting — given this family and given how singular Malala is — knowing [the film] had to be a documentary,” explained Parkes. “It was a reaction to Malala and her family."

Guggenheim, who is known for his work on films such as Waiting for Superman and An Inconvenient Truth, was inspired by Ziauddin’s leadership as a father, as the director also is the father of three children. “I would spend time with this beautiful family and go 7,000 miles home to my family in Los Angeles, and I’d say, ‘Am I as good a dad as Malala’s father? Do my daughters feel as courageous and powerful?’ ” Guggenheim said. “And I didn’t answer that question to my satisfaction. I’m trying to become a better father. I’m trying to become as good a father as this Muslim man in Pakistan.”

But Ziauddin doesn’t think he’s a hero. “It’s every day an effort to be a good father and to be a good mom,” he said at the talkback, adding that he’s often asked about how he’s parented his daughter in a patriarchal society. “Don’t ask me what I did, rather ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.”

Ziauddin and Malala were greeted with uproarious applause and a standing ovation after the film, and Amina J. Mohammed, the secretary-general’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning at the United Nations, joined them for the second half of the talkback. And when Guggenheim asked Malala what she would say to inspire young girls to be courageous, she did not hold back.

“If you really want to see change in society, if you want to challenge all the difficulties that are present and that stop you from being yourself, then you need to come out and speak up,” she told the audience. “Do not wait for someone else. It’s you who can really bring the change.”

The film hits theaters Oct. 2.