"He Named Me Malala" starts out more like a fairy tale than a documentary, retelling an old Pashto legend through dreamy watercolor animation: A teen girl who stood up for her people (and rallied them to fight) is killed for speaking out. That girl was named Malalai of Maiwand, and generations later her story and her bravery would inspire Ziauddin Yousafzai to name his own daughter -- Malala -- in her honor.
That tiny instance of serendipity seems all the more intense once we consider the rest of Malala Yousafzai's story: She also saw injustice in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley, spoke out in defense of her people and her principles and risked death doing so.
But Malala survived, going on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and to travel the world inspiring other young people.
MTV News caught up with the film's director, Davis Guggenheim, to talk about why Malala's story is so powerful and it has everything to do with how deeply people can relate to her.
“It’s very easy to think of Malala as this icon, this person who’s larger than life…” Guggenheim said. “But it’s important to see: Malala is an ordinary girl -- she was living in a small town, she was like anybody else. But the Taliban was coming and threatening the school, blowing up schools in her neighborhood. But what makes her so special is that she fought back.”
Seeing that extraordinary power coming from an ordinary girl inspires others and, Guggenheim said, watching the Yousafzai family together -- particularly the special, almost spiritual, bond between Malala and her father -- inspired him as well.
He said that from the moment he knocked on the door of the Yousafzai house and got a glimpse at the family's life -- from the everyday teasing between Malala and her brothers, Malala helping her father figure out Twitter, Malala talking about card tricks and boys with her friends -- it all felt so natural and so normal.
“There’s a lot of love, there’s a lot of humor, a lot of sort of inspirational talk — her father and her have a mission," he said. “I would go home to my own family and sit and talk to my daughters in a different way. I want my daughters to feel like they’re on this planet to do something, to be part of something special.”
Meighan Stone, President of The Malala Fund -- a global child education advocacy group -- told us that hearing about other people getting that rush of inspiration from hearing her story is one of Malala's favorite things.
One of The Malala Fund's new initiatives, Stand #withMalala, will give young people a chance to actually take action. From signing a petition that's trying to bring 12 years of safe and accessible education to girls around the world to campaigns where students can bring their classes to screenings of the film and have discussions where, Stone said, they can "feel like their voices matter and they could be part of this movement."
You can find out more about the Stand #with Malala Campaign at Malala.org.