For movie lovers, it’s a debate as old as time: Was there enough room for Jack on the door that saved Rose’s life at the end of “Titanic”?
When Malala Yousafzai, the 25-year-old Pakistani education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was grilled on the hot-button question by moderator Anna Kendrick, she didn’t hesitate to respond with “I think there was.”
Yousafzai was interviewed by Kendrick on Saturday in Washington D.C. for A+E and the History Channel’s History Talks, an annual event brings together political leaders and Hollywood stars for a day filled with panels and conversations.
“We have so much in common,” Kendrick quipped at the start of the talk. “Your father is an educator; my father is an educator. That’s it. That’s all we have in common.”
In the 30-minute chat, Yousafzai — who survived an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman in 2012 when she was 15 — spoke about a range of topics, from her work to make education accessible to young girls who were at home during the pandemic to binge-watching the latest season of “Stranger Things” with her husband, Asser Malik. And, based on Yousafzai’s musings, there’s more overlap between activism and entertainment than one may expect.
“I have been influenced by television and movies my whole life,” said Yousafzai, who mentioned that “Titanic” was only Hollywood movie she’d seen in Pakistan before moving to the United Kingdom — hence Kendrick’s line of inquiry about the infamous floating door.
“Television dramas in Indian influenced what I thought about myself and the role of women in society,” she continued. “The way I saw a very stereotypical image of a woman — it would remind me things shouldn’t be this way.”
Kendrick says she was intentional in her decision to ask Yousafzai, who newly started the production company Extracurricular, some sillier questions over the course of their conversation.
“You are so iconic and have accomplished so much. There might be a temptation to look at you and go, ‘This person is wired different, and I could never make a difference the way she’s making a difference,” Kendrick said. “These stories make us feel like we can relate to you and we could be the next Malala.”
So what is Yousafzai watching on Netflix? “And be specific,” Kendrick joked, “or I won’t believe you.”
Right now, the activist is catching up on “Cobra Kai” (“I love Johnny,” Yousafzai says) and “Stranger Things” (“this season was really scary,” she confesses). Her husband, she says, tends to fall asleep mid-episode, leaving Yousafzai to carry on without him. But having to watch the scary sci-fi series by herself comes with a downside. “When I saw [the show’s villain] Vecna, I said, ‘I’m going to pause this and watch in the daylight, not the dark,” she recalls. “I don’t think I’m ready for season 5.”
Yousafzai added,” Then I switched to ‘Never Have I Ever’ or ‘Ted Lasso’– something that makes me happy and less worried.”
Despite the real and fictional terrors in the world, Yousafzai maintains there is plenty to be optimistic about.
“When I think about hope, I think about young people around the world who are raising their voice for justice, who are speaking about environmental justice, who are speaking about equality, equity,” she said. “I started as a young activist. I believe in the power of the youth. I hope more young people realize the potential to bring change. Don’t wait to be older. You can do amazing things then as well. But if you’re passionate about a cause, you can get into action right now and mobilize other young people to join you.”
Before the conversation ended, Yousafzai surprised Kendrick by taking out her cell phone to show the audience a very specific piece of pop culture that inspired her. “When I was in school in 2017, I participated in a talent show, and we did the ‘Cup’ song,” she said, referring to the catchy song that Kendrick’s character sings at the end of the musical comedy “Pitch Perfect.”
With her hands covering her mouth in surprise, an emotional Kendrick said, “I’m going to cry.”