Malala Yousafzai is most well known for being the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in history, championing girls’ education both in her native Pakistan and globally. Her 2013 autobiography, I Am Malala, tells the harrowing tales of her life—including her educational activism, being shot by the Taliban at age 15, and her family’s escape to Birmingham in England. But after being one of the most influential women in the activist sphere for a decade, the 25-year-old activist is starting a new career in Hollywood.
“I’m a woman, a Muslim, a Pashtun, a Pakistani, and a person of color. And I watched Succession, Ted Lasso and Severance, where the leads are white people—and especially a lot of white men,” she told Variety on Wednesday. “If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of color, and produced and directed by people of color, with people of color in the lead. That is possible, and I’m gonna make it happen.”
In the interview, Yousafzai discussed her plans for her film and TV production company, Extracurricular, which she started when she was 22. In 2021, it sealed a multi-year programming pact with Apple TV+, and its first set of projects are underway, including a film adaptation of Elaine Hsieh Chou’s hit debut novel Disorientation about a Taiwanese American Ph.D. student who makes a shocking discovery while attempting to finish her dissertation.
Yousafzai has long been a fan of English-speaking television, growing up watching the British and American sitcoms Mind Your Language and Ugly Betty. These days, she says she’s enraptured by the latest season of Stranger Things, and her recent favorites include Sex Education and Rick and Morty—picks that some might find surprising given her global persona. “Malala has probably the darkest sense of humor I’ve ever encountered,” Erika Kennair, Extracurricular’s president of production, told Variety.
With the company, Yousafzai is determined to change the landscape of entertainment, prioritizing the voices of women of color, debut writers, and Muslim directors and writers. “I feel like I’m an activist and a storyteller,” she said. “I’ve been doing activism for more than a decade now, and I’ve realized that we shouldn’t limit activism to the work of NGOs only: There’s also the element of changing people’s minds and perspectives—and that requires a bit more work.”
But beyond just simple on-screen representation, Yousafzai wants to push the envelope on what kinds of stories are told about people of color, going beyond the typical stories of trauma that never craft characters beyond their need to be pitied by white audiences. “I hope we can have a wide range of perspectives and that we challenge some of the stereotypes we hold in our societies,” Yousafzai said. “And I also hope that the content is entertaining, and that people fall in love with the characters and have the best time together.”
On Tuesday, Variety announced that Extracurricular will be teaming up with A24 for a feature documentary about the dwindling haenyeo community, or elderly Korean fisherwomen, filled with “matriarchs, breadwinners and rowdy grandmas.” I actually can’t wait to see it. Watch this space!