Malala Yousafzai, a normal teenage girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan, spoke out against the Taliban by saying girls should be educated. She became a target and was shot in the head on the way home from school in October 2012. Now, at 18 years old, she is an advocate for girls’ education all around the world and is the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Academy Award-winning director and producer Davis Guggenheim spent over a year in Birmingham, England with Malala and her family to bring her story to life. His past works include “Waiting for Superman” and “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2007.
The Entertainer! spoke with Guggenheim about his favorite moments with Malala and how her courage is influencing young girls all over the world.
The Entertainer!: What effect do you think the story will have on others, especially on women and young girls? Do you think girls all over the world can relate to her story?
Guggenheim: Whenever I make my movies I want to visualize who the audience will be. So when I made “Inconvenient Truth,” I thought of my cousins who live in Ohio, a swing state. And I wanted the movie to convince them. It wasn’t enough to make a movie that played to people who already agreed with me, I wanted to make a movie that kind of actually did some good in changing minds and make people realize that climate change is real.
When I made this movie, I made the movie imagining my own two daughters watching it. I’m a father. I have two daughters. I imagined a girl in the Valley in Los Angeles. I imagined a Japanese girl in Tokyo. I imagined a girl, a Pashtun girl in the Swat Valley watching it. To me I wanted the story to speak to girls. I wanted girls to feel like this was their story.
That sounds odd, because, of course, I’m a 51-year-old man who’s not them. So what I did was I did these extensive interviews with Malala and her father, mostly Malala, and tried to make the movie—my process was to help her tell her own story so that it felt like it was told from the voice of a girl and from her perspective. So my dream is that girls feel like it’s their movie and they own it. This weekend or next weekend they tell their parents, I want to go see this movie or they tell their friends or their boyfriend or their family, I want to go see this.
What was your favorite moment with Malala and her family?
My favorite moment. That’s a good question. There’s so many. In all my movies that I’ve ever made, I’ve never felt so close to a family before and there’s a lot of love exchanged between my family and her family. My kids are close with their kids. So there’s not one moment particularly, but just the sense of— It’s really kind of corny, but you—telling a story has a way of bridging barriers and this experience for me is to meet this family from the other part of the world with a religion I didn’t quite understand, a culture I didn’t quite understand. That was a beautiful thing for me to know this family and to open my mind.
A large portion of the film focuses on Malala’s everyday life with her friends and family. I was wondering if one of your objectives of the movie was to give Malala a chance to just be a normal teenage girl rather than this international speaker and advocate?
Yes. I mean, first of all, my experience was walking into their home that this is a really fun, joyful place and I didn’t realize that their family was just like my family. Even though they’re a Muslim family from 7,000 miles away from my home, they were arm-wrestling and teasing each other. Malala was like any other girl—opening up her laptop and looking at pictures of Brad Pitt.
It was really important to me to show that side of her. That she’s just a normal girl. It’s too easy for us to make our heroes untouchable and put them on a pedestal. Well, I could never be like her. Truth is she is just an ordinary girl who became famous because she was brave and she made an extraordinary choice in her life to speak out.