Oscar winner’s Malala Yousafzai documentary headed to theaters

Fox Searchlight Pictures has acquired rights to a documentary about Malala Yousafzai and will release it later this year.
(Paul Ellis / AFP/Getty Images)
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The story of Malala Yousafzai has captivated news viewers over the past few years, as the Pakistani teenager has become a leading proponent of women’s rights in the wake of a brutal attack. Now the activist’s story will have a chance to reach people via movie screens as well.

Yousafzai’s tale is being captured by the Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim in the film project “He Named Me Malala.” On Monday Fox Searchlight announced it has acquired rights to the movie and will release it in theaters later this year. Studiocanal will be distributing the movie in France, giving it a strong European platform as well.

Yousafzai is the Pakistani teenager who had campaigned heavily for women’s rights and female education in the developing world, particularly in her native northwest region of Pakistan, where the Taliban exerts a strong presence. In 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban, but after being critically wounded, made a full recovery and went on to become both a high-profile activist, speaking at the U.N. about women’s rights issues, and a media darling. She won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her efforts--at 17, the youngest person ever to receive an Oslo nod.


Guggenheim’s film looks to tell both her personal story and the larger context of her work, with he and his crew spending the last 18 months with Yousafzai and her family.

The movie follows several other such efforts, including “Malala: A Girl From Paradise,” an indie project, and a documentary featurette titled “Class Dismissed” by Adam Ellick that was produced by the New York Times. The effort by Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for his environmental cri de coeur “An Inconvenient Truth,” is expected to be the most high-profile of the group.

Parkes-McDonald, the Hollywood production company behind the thematically related “The Kite Runner,” is producing the movie, and nonprofit experts Participant Media and the Abu Dhabi film fund Image Nation are among the backers.

The acquisition marks a bit of a switch for Searchlight, which doesn’t distribute many documentaries. But executives said they were moved by Yousafzai’s story as well as by its larger effect.

“Malala’s incredible journey is both heartbreaking and inspiring,” Searchlight’s co-presidents Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley said in a statement. “Her bravery in the face of adversity brought us to tears. The chance to bring her story to a global audience will be an honor for all of us here at Searchlight.”