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Malala intends to change the stories told by Hollywood from the inside out

<i>Tommaso Boddi/Variety/Getty Images</i><br/>Malala Yousafzai
Variety via Getty Images
Tommaso Boddi/Variety/Getty Images
Malala Yousafzai

By Leah Asmelash, CNN

Malala has long been known for her global activism, but now she’s turning her sights stateside — to Hollywood.

Speaking Wednesday at Variety’s Power of Women event, Malala Yousafzai, who became an activist after being shot by the Taliban, called out Hollywood for its lack of representation for Muslims and other Asian people. She intends to change that.

“I don’t expect Hollywood to change because it’s the right thing to do, or even because it’s good for business. I want you to do it because you’re artists and you know that art belongs to everyone,” Malala said. “If you are an artist who has heard your story, or have been told that you are too young, that you don’t have the right background, then come sit at my table and let’s work together.”

But the Nobel Laureate and education activist isn’t just looking for representation, she said Wednesday.

“To me, representation is just a consolation prize,” she said. “I want our shows and our friends to be the mainstream.”

Last year, Malala inked a multi-year partnership with Apple to develop original programming for its streaming service Apple TV+. Her offerings are meant to span dramas, comedies, documentaries, animation, and children’s series, all through her production company Extracurricular.

The first slate of those projects is currently in development at the streaming service, she told Variety.

“We have so many young, diverse roles on TV. Just look at ‘Never Have I Ever,’ ‘Sex Education,’ ‘Ms Marvel,’ and ‘Coda’ won best picture. All of that is true and I’m so grateful for every opportunity to see new faces and hear new stories,” Malala said Wednesday. “But for each one I just mentioned, I know that the executives have passed [on] dozens of quality, equally amazing projects because they thought that the characters or the creators were too young, too brown, too foreign, too poor.”

Though 25% of the world’s population is Muslim, a study published in 2022 found that Muslims make up just 1% of speaking characters on television.

Another report, published in 2021, found that female Asian and Pacific Islander characters are more likely than female characters of any other race to be objectified on screen.

“Many of my friends are young women of color,” Malala said to the audience of Hollywood executives and creatives. “We are watching ‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘Succession,’ ‘The Crown,’ all of it. So please ask yourselves, if we can love these stories what makes you think that people won’t be interested in ours?”

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