NEW YORK – Malala Yousafzai is a Nobel laureate known around the world for her activism, but she's also a cartoon fan, and is taking her love of television and film to Apple TV+.
Yousafzai, 23, who graduated from Oxford last June, announced Monday that she has partnered with Apple in a multi-year deal to develop dramas, documentaries, comedies, animation and series for kids.
Yousafzai was the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2014, for working to protect children from slavery, extremism and child labor. In her home country, Pakistan, she was outspoken in insisting that girls have a right to an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding a school bus at age 15. She recovered and went on to fight against girls' oppression worldwide.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Yousafzai talked about her love of cartoons as an escape, how she stays hopeful in a sometimes bleak world, and how she will mark Monday's International Women’s Day.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Your new deal with Apple includes comedy and animated shows. Are you a comedy fan?
YOUSAFZAI: In my childhood, it was Cartoon Network and, you know, seeing “Tom and Jerry,” “Courage,” “Scooby Doo” and all of those TV cartoon shows. When you are a child — and especially when terrorism started — to know that there is sort of this world in cartoons where you can escape from the reality around you and just giggle and laugh and just entertain yourself. You know, I have been watching comedy movies from Bollywood to Hollywood, and I am a big fan of animation as well. I have not missed a single animation movie. It just keeps you engaged and entertained and also gives you very beautiful messages.
AP: You’ll also be developing documentaries and maybe covering your world travels to help girls?
YOUSAFZAI: I definitely want to do documentaries and non-scripted shows, and it will cover a lot — hopefully my own journey as well — and the incredible girls that I meet.... But there’s so much more to explore and to learn. I’m excited. You know, I’m still at the stage where I’m exploring ideas. I can tell you that there are so many incredible ideas and it’s so difficult to pick and choose one.
AP: A stat on your website suggests it will take 100 years until all girls have access to education. Sometimes the news is so dark, how do you maintain hope?
YOUSAFZAI: I think when you raise your voice, it can have an impact and it can bring change. What will make me pessimistic is if we don’t do anything. So as long as we keep doing our part, there is optimism, there is hope. I think it’s just the silence that keeps things going as they are.
AP: How are you going to mark International Women’s Day?
YOUSAFZAI: We need to just take a bit of a break and celebrate the accomplishments that women have made. And I’m not just talking about historical figures and activist women — we need to applaud them and appreciate them. But us as individuals, who are in school, in colleges studying, or parents who are coping with COVID and being at home and managing their kids and also doing work and managing these Zoom calls and everything. So to all the women who just coped — especially last year, you know — take a break and be proud of yourself. You have done an incredible job.
AP: Many girls look up to you as a hero. Who are your heroes?
YOUSAFZAI: I have many, many heroes, from my parents to historical figures like Benazir Bhutto, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. But the people who have actually and truly inspired me are the young girls that I have met in my journey. Girls from Iraq to Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya. So many of these girls have incredible stories that they have seen — wars, conflicts. They have become displaced. They have been forced into marriages at early ages. But they do not give up on their dreams and they are still fighting for the right to education, for their right to a safe future. If they are not giving up on their fight for education, then why should we?
AP: How has it been in quarantine at home?
YOUSAFZAI: I spent the last two months of college at home because of COVID. And I was taking my exams at home and I graduated at home and it’s all just been home, home, home. I have two younger brothers and it’s quite difficult to manage your work while they’re in the house. They have their own sort of schedule and timetable. And I would have an important call and they would just come to my room and not appreciate that. But still, you know, they are my brothers and I love them. So we’re just coping with it and trying our best not to argue too much.
AP: What is your message for young girls who want to be activists?
YOUSAFZAI: My message to young girls is always, never underestimate yourself. We are often told that you have to grow older and get a PhD or something, and then once you are 50 or 40, then you can change things. Follow that path if you want, but you can change things now as well. Do not underestimate the power you have, even in the small actions that you take, whether that is raising awareness, doing fundraising for a cause you believe in, talking to somebody that doesn’t agree with you.... Talk about why women’s rights and girls’ rights are important, why climate change is important. All of these things matter.