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Power of Women: Malala Calls Out Hollywood for Lack of Muslim Leads

Malala Yousafzai used diversity is “Power of Women” event presented by Lifetime to promote representation in Hollywood, highlighting in particular the fact that Muslim actors make up only 1% of the main cast of popular TV series.

Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson presented Yousafzai with her diversity honor to call her one of the “most influential advocates of our time”. Yousafzai, who remains the youngest Nobel Prize winner in history, recently unveiled the first batch of projects from her production company, Extracurricular. The outfit, which is helmed by Yousafzai and her executive producer Erika Kennair, inked a multi-year programming deal with Apple TV+ last year.

A rich diversity is at the center of her early projects, reflecting Yousafzai’s determination to tell representative stories that didn’t always have a place in Hollywood.

“I learned that Asians like me make up less than 4% of the leads in Hollywood movies. Muslims make up 25% of the population but only 1% of the characters in popular TV series,” Yousafzai pointed out at the Power of Women dinner.

Her first projects include a documentary with A24 about South Korea’s matriarchal Haenyeo society of elderly fisherwomen, currently in production; a screenplay series based on Asha Lemmie’s coming-of-age novel, Fifty Words for Rain, about a woman’s quest for acceptance in post-WWII Japan; and a feature film, starring Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay and his production company Hyperobject, based on Elaine Hsieh Chou’s book Disorientation, a satire on a college student’s revealing dissertation about a young poet.

Yousafzai also brings her influence behind Riz Ahmed’s Pillars Artist Fellowship, which supports aspiring Muslim directors and screenwriters. The program is timely as Yousafzai cited new data from a recent USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative during her speech.

“I know that executives passed on dozens of high-quality, equally amazing projects because they felt the characters or their creators were too young, too brown, too alien, or too poor,” she noted. “Sometimes it feels like they’re saying we just don’t belong here.”

On October 9, it will be 10 years since Yousafzai, aged 15, survived a ruthless attempted assassination of a child by the Taliban. In 2012, the Afghanistan-headquartered group, which was slowly stripping women of the region of their civil liberties, targeted Yousafzai for her father’s activism – at the time he ran the Khushal school for girls in Mingora.

The Taliban shot Yousafzai in the face as she was taking the bus home from school. She was flown to England for emergency life-saving treatment and has lived there ever since, having recently moved to London from her family’s home in Birmingham with her new husband Asser Malik.

Speaking of diversity is event, Yousafzai spoke about the formative experience at the age of 11 that set her on the path to activism and championing creative perspectives from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds in the entertainment industry.

“I know the story of a dream and he was told to forget it,” Yousafzai said. “Today I am a storyteller, activist and producer.”

Yousafzai is an honoree at this year’s Power of Women event in Los Angeles, along with Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, Elizabeth Olsen, Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay.

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