Ms. Marvel
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

‘Ms. Marvel’ First Impressions: Kamala Khan is the hero the world needs right now

Ms. Marvel captures the essence of what it means to be South East Asian in the western world

Release Date
June 8, 2022
Created For TV By:
Bisha K. Ali
Directors
Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, Meera Menon, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Starring
Iman Vellani, Matt Lintz, Yasmeen Fletcher, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Laurel Marsden, Azhar Usman, Rish Shah, Arian Moayed, Alysia Reiner, Laith Nakli, Nimra Bucha, Travina Springer

As a South East Asian, I find that the regions cultural representation in film and television within the western world to be incomplete and sometimes shortsighted. While one small essence of it is there, the little things that make it truly representable are often missing, and what is instead highlighted are the stereotypes that people have become accustomed to seeing.

This is where Ms. Marvel is starkly different. The latest Marvel production is a game changer when it comes to representation, and creator Bisha K. Ali along with directors and fellow executive producers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have created something that is more than just another entertainment show.

Ms. Marvel is the latest Disney+ show to enter into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It follows Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Pakistani-American high-schooler who loves everything Avengers, creating fan-fiction and stories around her heroes, especially Captain Marvel. She struggles to fit in with her surroundings, until fate gives her cosmic powers of her own and a chance to shine. It is awesome to see Canadian artist Iman Vellani as the title character, another talented representative of Canada’s diverse film industry.

Ms. Marvel
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

First I need to address my own elephant in the room: I had concerns about this production. I am all for representation, but I had an uncomfortable feeling in my gut about how the South East Asian community, Muslims especially, would be represented in a western production. Would they distill cultural aspects for the sake of good TV? Would it appeal to the niche audience without alienating the larger fanbase? Would this project go beyond just checking a diversity box? I had too many questions, but I felt it would be best that I go into this production with an open mind and see what was what. I am so glad that I did.

Thank you Marvel for giving the creative team of Ali, El Arbi, Fallah and company the space to bring something to life that is going to change the way people reconnect with the MCU, and film/television generally speaking.

After watching the first two episodes, I couldn’t help but get a little emotional.

Every small detail resonated with me on a deep, personal level. Whether it is how individuals are greeted, the relationship between children and their parents, societal expectations, cultural communal settings, and even something simple as how you look at someone, Ms. Marvel captures every molecule of modern Muslim-American culture and brings it to your screens.

Ms. Marvel
(L-R): Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel / Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

The show doesn’t pander to the Muslim audiences as one would expect, but presents what it means to be Muslim in the western world in a “here we are” kind of way. Kamala’s family dynamics represent the state of most 1st and 2nd generation families who have immigrated to the western world. While you have those that are culturally bound – often the parents/grand-parents – the next generation is more open-minded, more adapting. That sense of individuality can clearly be seen in the differences between Kamala and her older-brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) for example. While Kamala is more rebellious and influenced by the culture around her, Aamir is more bound to cultural nuances. I am by no means saying this is how it always is or taking any stance in how the family dynamics are, but what the creative team has done is very representative and relatable.

Ms. Marvel
(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel / Kamala Khan and Saagar Shaikh as Aamir in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Going to a more micro-level, the various aspects of a Muslim’s life are quite authentically portrayed. From saying Bismillah before starting anything important, doing wudu before prayers, or wearing the right attire for the right occasion, all these micro-details help build up the essence of Muslim life. There are some elements here that I have not seen in mainstream productions. Remember, this is a production set in Jersey City, not in the stereotypical South East Asian or Middle Eastern setting. Capturing all these micro-elements – going beyond the gorgeous traditional and modern South East Asian attire – with Jersey City in the background really help’s the audience celebrate the diversity within the America’s. While most of these micro-elements may not resonate with many audiences, it helps connect with a minority group that till now has not had solid representation within the MCU.

Ms. Marvel
(L-R) Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia, and Matt Lintz as Bruno in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

There has been a lot of discussion about Kamala’s powers and their origins. Honestly, I like when stories follow source material as it creates this ecosystem of content you can fall back on. However, in this case, I think the show did right by reinventing the source of her powers. The bracelet is an heirloom that directly connects with Kamala’s ancestry. As some individuals have mentioned, this creates a great synergy between her powers and her culture. For me, it has an additional value-add: with the heirloom being the source of her powers, she is now connected with her family more than before. Love for family – blood relations or otherwise – is something we’ve seen time and again in the MCU, and it has been a powerful catalyst for amazing storytelling. I feel we are going to see Kamala become much closer to her family as each episode gets released, and it will likely be her love of family and friends that makes her go full Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel
(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf and Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

I’m loving the show so far. The acting has been on-point, with credit to Vellani and all the cast members for bringing to life authentic characters we can relate to. Ms. Marvel should be a case-study on casting as well, especially with the wide-ranging casting mishaps we’ve seen in the film industry over the last decade or so. When you cast individuals in roles that should be played by someone from a specific ethnic background, and you cast it properly, it does wonders for the performance and the end production as a whole. I also admire the powerful female characters in this production, and the fact that Kamala’s Nani (maternal grandmother) is the source of the artifact that gives her the powers. Highlighting a strong Muslim story is one thing. Highlighting the story of a strong Muslim woman, and the strong women around her that make her who she is, is next level awesome.

Ms. Marvel
(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

The visuals of this show are mind-blowing. The comic-art-style littered across each episode is a wonderful deviation from MCU productions of the past. It captures the playful side of Kamala and her colourful, fantasy-filled mind. Most importantly, there are COLOURS. WandaVision and Loki to an extent really incorporate vivid colours into their productions. Ms. Marvel’s visuals are even more dramatic and colourful, and this elevates the fun-loving experience we’ve had with the show so far. I can’t wait to see where the visuals go next with future episodes.

Ms. Marvel
(L-R): Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba; Matthew Lintz as Bruno, and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

This piece would not be complete without a comment about the music. Laura Karpman, you have really created a solid score for this production. I love the choice of music within each episode, but its a real treat when you get to the end credits. After the first episode, for example, the end credits play out with Eva B’s Rozi – that got everyone around me turning their heads. Eva B is a Pakistani Rapper from the Baloch community, who raps wearing a niqab. She recently commented in an interview that she is “more than just [her] niqab”. This sentiment is very much felt across the Ms. Marvel production, underlying the fact the Muslim people (especially women) are more than just stereotypical identifiers.

I am looking forward to the upcoming episodes. I hope Marvel continues to be bold and serve-up stories like that of Kamala Khan. It will truly change the way people perceive and engage with different cultures while rallying around the fandom of Marvel and the MCU.