Malala Yousafzai on Supporting Riz Ahmed’s Pillars Artist Fellowship for Muslim Representation on Screen

Alongside her work through Extracurricular and Malala Fund, Yousafzai is throwing her weight behind Pillars Artist Fellowship, which supports emerging Muslim directors and screenwriters.

The program is timely, given shocking new data from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that reveals Muslims comprised only 1.1% of characters in popular television series from 2018 to 2019, despite making up 25% of the world’s population.

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Set up last year by Pillars Fund and actor-producer Riz Ahmed and his production company, Left Handed Films, the fellowship provides an unrestricted grant of $25,000 to 10 recipients a year. It also offers one-on-one mentorship, professional development and access to an advisory committee of leading figures such as “Ms. Marvel” showrunner Bisha K. Ali and Mahershala Ali.

“The work that Riz is doing is incredible, to ensure that Muslim writers, directors, producers and actors — especially those who are in the early phase of their careers — get the opportunity and the support they need to ensure that their dream in this industry becomes true,” Yousafzai says.

She hopes, too, that Extracurricular can collaborate on film projects with Ahmed and others who are passionate about “stories that would often be declined or dismissed.”

“When you see these different characters, it gives you a better perspective of the world, and you challenge and unlearn as much as you learn new things,” Yousafzai adds.

Variety revealed Yousafzai’s first slate of Extracurricular projects for Apple TV+, which the young activist struck a multiyear programming pact with in 2021.

“You’re often told in Hollywood, implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are too young, too brown or too Muslim, or that if one show about a person of color is made, then that’s it — you don’t need to make another one. That needs to change,” Yousafzai said.

“I’m a woman, a Muslim, a Pashtun, a Pakistani and a person of color. And I watched ‘Succession,’ ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘Severance,’ where the leads are white people — and especially a lot of white men. If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of color, and produced and directed by people of color, with people of color in the lead. That is possible, and I’m gonna make it happen.”

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