Arm-wrestling, teen angst and Roger Federer: What you don't know about Malala Yousafzai
A new documentary film, He Named Me Malala, aims to shed light on the life of Malala Yousafzai behind the headlines. Radhika Sanghani sums up her key learnings.
Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on October 9 for promoting girls' education in PakistanPhoto: AFP
Malala Yousafzai is one of the most famous teenagers in Britain - if not the world. At the age of 18, she has given speeches to presidents, won the Nobel Peace Prize, had a day named after her (Malala Day – 12 July) and co-written a memoir.
Her story is well-known. She was shot in the head by the Taliban aged 15 after blogging about girls’ rights to an education for the BBC. She was taken to the UK to recover and has since become a worldwide activist for women’s rights.
But there’s more to Malala than the face we see on our TV screens, on her book covers and on the UN’s homepage – underneath the politics there is a normal teenage girl growing up in Britain.
This is the side to Malala that millions of people will be able to see in the filmHe Named Me Malala which is out today.
It’s a striking film that explores not just what it’s like to be Malala but what it’s like to be her mother, father and two younger brothers.
Here’s a hint of what it shows us about Malala that we didn’t know before:
1) She has teenage insecurities
It’s hard to remember that Malala is a teenager who has just taken her GCSEs (she’s in a class two years below her age group because of her English) but that’s exactly what she is.
Meeting Barack Obama at the White House in 2013 Photo: GETTY
Though she’s hung out with President Obama and delivered speeches to thousands of people, Malala isn’t immune to insecurities. In the film she talks about how she isn’t comfortable showing her real self to her classmates and how she feels different to them, having spent most of her life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
2) She fancies Roger Federer
In the documentary Malala is asked whether she would ever ask out a boy. She collapses into giggles but then Googles images of Roger Federer – her celebrity crush (her brother concedes that the tennis star has good hair). She also admits she fancies the cricketer Shane Watson.
3) Her brothers are amazing
Malala has two younger brothers: 15-year-old Khushal, who she calls “the laziest one” and 11-year-old Atal who definitely wins best supporting act in the film for his comedy. He tells the camera the truth about Malala: “She’s a little bit naughty.”
The film shows her teasing them, and being teased back. She arm wrestles Khushal (her mum’s 'favourite child') and she wins. Naturally.
4) Her name came from a warrior
The film explains Malala’s name. She was named after a warrior called Malalai who is often known as the Afghan Joan of Arc. When the British were attempting to colonise Afghanistan in 1880, Malala rallied the local Pashtun fighters leading to the Afghan victory at the Battle of Maiwand.
It is telling that this is the name Malala’s father chose for his daughter. But she says: “My father only gave me the name Malala, he didn’t make me Malala.”
5) She’s really close to her dad
One of the most touching parts of the film was witnessing Malala’s relationship with her dad. She rests her head on his shoulder in the car, asks him for advice and travels with him across the world.
He says in the film: “We came to depend on each other, like one soul in two different bodies… It was attachment from the very first moment I saw her."
6) Her mum is impressive too
Malala with her mother, Toor Pekai Photo: GETTY
Though Malala’s mum prefers to stay out of the limelight, the film shows what it was like for her growing up. It was rare for girls to go to school when she was a child but she was sent there aged five. However it was so discouraged that when she sold her books for sweets, no one ever told her to go back. Only now is she having the education she missed out on.
7) Malala is a perfectionist
In her GCSEs she received all As and A*s. It’s unsurprising considering Malala’s strong work ethic. She stresses out over a 61 per cent score in Physics and thinks it’s bad to get between 60-70 per cent at school – though she still tries to avoid homework when she can.
8) Her strength comes from her family
Malala sums up the importance of her parents and family when she says that if it wasn’t for their focus on her education – her father used to teach her in his secret school for children in Pakistan – she’d be an uneducated mother in her home country.
“I’m still an ordinary girl but if I had an ordinary mother and an ordinary father then I would have two children now,” she says.