You may have heard the Pope was in Manhattan last week. The Pope’s visit created traffic jams and streets were closed for security reasons. Even the New York Film Festival was postponed for one day to accommodate all the craziness.
The Pope’s visit may have overshadowed the arrival of the Pakistani-born teenager and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who came to Manhattan at the same time as the Pope, both to address the U.N. and attend the premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about her, “He Named Me Malala.” The film had its premiere last week at the Ziegfeld Hotel, and security was on high alert.
Malala, who was shot in the head at age 15 by the Taliban for daring to speak out that girls had a right to education, has refused to be intimated, but lives under the constant threat to safety. Security was probably as stringent as it was for the Pope. Journalists had to go through three checkpoints. First our bags and purses were hand searched by security. Then we went through metal detectors. Finally we were instructed to leave our bags and equipment on the red carpet and leave the area as a bomb-sniffing dog nosed his way around all our possessions. Only then we were allowed back on the red carpet.
Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai are used to photographers yelling out instructions to turn right or left, and were led for interviews with selected press. She was accompanied by a delegation of girl leaders and champions of education, many of them dressed in native garb like her, who also walked the red carpet and posed for photographs. There was also an eclectic mix of A-list celebrities who included Scarlett Johansson, Alicia Keys, Jeffrey Wright and Ivanka Trump (who just that day had announced on Instagram that she was pregnant with her third child).
“He Named Me Malala” is a well-rounded portrait of the Nobel Prize winner who risked her life defending the right of girls to an education. She and her parents and two brothers now live in England. The movie tries to paint her as an ordinary teenager struggling with school and fighting with her brothers like any normal teenager, but she’s clearly so exceptional, articulate and passionate that it is impossible not to be moved by her ordeal, bravery and exceptional character. She also as an impish or “naughty” side, and there are plenty of laughs and lighter moments in the film.
The actress Elisabeth Shue, who has been married to the director for 21 years, told me on the red carpet that she thinks the doc reveals “how authentic and real” Malala is. “She’s not a fantasy. She’s a real human being who has become an icon for two reasons, her bravery and her choice to forgive, and it’s so profound and simple, but that’s what made her iconic. She needs to be seen as a human being so we can all feel like we’re capable of the same bravery and forgiveness.”
Malala’s father Ziauddin spoke on the red carpet that since the movie came out Malala has finished some exams and is looking ahead and possibly will apply to Stanford or Oxford after she finishes high school.
He empathized that the movie was not the story of only one family. “This is the story of millions of people who are suffering because of war and conflict like Syrian refugees, displaced people from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “This story reflects the story of many tragedies all around the world, and we want word to get out that people should know there must be peace for the people and children around the world, and there must be quality education for all children.”
Following the screening of the documentary, Davis Guggenheim and Malala and her father participated in a Q&A to an enthusiastic audience that packed the theater. “We don’t want to do this for very long,” said Guggenheim, “Malala needs her sleep.”
There was an elegant after party at the Museum of Modern Art, but neither Malala nor her father attended. Malala was scheduled to attend the U.N. the next morning where she said on the red carpet she hoped to speak to the Pope.