On Ms. Marvel, when Kamala Khan’s brother Aamir finds her hanging out with a boy named Kamran at a restaurant, he taunts him by calling her “Haram-dot-Kamran” – “haram” being a word used to designate something. as “forbidden” in Islam. I snickered because it gave me a new way to tease my husband, Kamran, but also because it was so nice to hear familiar names on screen and pronounced correctly. This level of relatability is not something I had imagined in a Disney+ superhero show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – not for someone from my background as a South Asian Muslim. In the run up to his release, I didn’t know how to feel about the culture and religion he was meant to represent, and my skepticism felt justified given that it’s the same MCU that made Eternal’s Kingo. , one of the few valuable South Asian Marvel characters, a Bollywood star. It could have been anything, but they went with a stereotype.
However, a few episodes into the first season, Ms. Marvel exceeded my expectations by portraying South Asian culture in a way that was both subtle and uncompromising. It goes beyond casting Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani as the bright-eyed main protagonist Kamala Khan. Ms. Marvel is a culture-driven narrative that features a range of Muslim characters who are useful and important parts of the story. As an artist who primarily does South Asian-centric art, I couldn’t get enough of the music and artwork featured in each episode. And it was common for me to go on social media and see South Asian artists excited to have their art featured on the show. Moments like these make representation valuable because the good that comes from it is tangible; The show makes it easy to draw a line from a moment on screen to the impact it has on people in the real world, whether it’s South Asian artists seeing their work in a Disney and Marvel production , or young children who see people who look like them who fight for good. This, in turn, cements Ms. Marvel as a well-rounded show built by South Asian people and led by South Asian women that will have a lasting impact on underrepresented communities, if not the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What makes the performance shine in this show is that it happens everywhere, even where you least expect it. Ms. Marvel embraces the ordinary life of a brunette teenager in America and her relationships with family and friends with nuance, especially when it comes to the push-and-pull that comes with having a foothold in Western culture in the New Jersey, where Kamala is raised, and the other foot in the culture of Pakistan and India, where her family is from. They also do a great job of exploring both culture and religion, which can easily be confused by those without the personal life experiences to tell the difference between them. In early episodes of Ms. Marvel, celebrations like Eid and weddings are key plot points alongside examining real-life issues of xenophobia and Islamophobia, most obviously perpetrated by the Department of Control. Damages (DODC), a secret government agency that on paper tries to apprehend vigilante Ms. Marvel, but ends up functionally targeting all brown people, much like what happened in the real world after 9/11 . This type of portrayal occurs when the story is told by people who have lived the South Asian American experience and can share an authentic perspective.
Right off the bat, Kamala expresses appreciation and curiosity for her heritage by showing off her necklace pendant that says her name in Arabic and gives her Captain Marvel a Pakistani flair with her bracelet, but she has maintained her rebellious and free nature without lean without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning without leaning support without support without support without support without support without support without support without support without support without support without support without support without atonement on the tropes boring stereotypical or internalized racists. Loving who you are and being humanized as a brown Muslim in America is hard to come by on screen.
Ms. Marvel’s authenticity comes from speaking directly to the people it’s trying to represent and doing so without making sure people outside of the South Asian community understand. everything it’s on the screen. At its most basic, it can be a simple pun like illunaunts, which anyone can find the humor in, but taking it a step further by including a joke about a shoe thief at the mosque is incredibly specific, so do mosque factions, tedious shopping sprees with parents at local Desi markets, and elaborate wedding dances. The brilliance of Ms. Marvel is in the things that go unexplained which, for a change, openly nods at Pakistanis, Muslims and South Asians, instead of giving them the awkward winks they’re used to. . These are things that others may have easily missed, but most Muslims and South Asians caught on right away. The show uses moments like Kamala’s brother Aamir reciting the Ayatul Kursi – a verse from the Quran recited when he needs protection or to ward off danger or harm – when his sister falls unconscious at the table to be humorous and witty, but only those who know the verse and understand how he exaggerated the situation really understand the full extent of the joke. Even when Kamala says Bismillah (meaning In the name of God) before starting her driving test and she fails, it reveals the audacity of Muslims who try to do things without prior preparation and hope for divine intervention. will pass them by (God does not). t help the lazy, the children). Even the collective Muslim disgust of DODC officers walking on the mosque carpet with their shoes on is something that could be missed by many without knowledge of mosque culture and best practices. Although Kamala’s mother Muneeba is quite a different personality than my own mother, the fact that she packs a bag full of food for Kamala’s best friend Bruno is a perfect indication of how most of our mothers are incapable of letting people leave the house empty-handed. My husband spotted a group dancing mehndi in preparation for the wedding and it reminded him of his multiple dance practices for our recent wedding celebrations.
I have never experienced such a relationship in Western media and I have never seen desi Muslim children growing up in America in such an authentic way. Although I am not Pakistani, I am repeatedly presented with touchstones that many South Asians can claim. For example, a brief scene in Episode 4, set in Karachi, Pakistan, involves Kamala and her grandmother Sana having a touching conversation on a terrace. For a few seconds during this you can hear the Azaan (call to prayer in Islam), where the voice echoes above the hustle and bustle of the streets at sunset – familiar sights from my visits to my city exhausted Muslim in India.
Perhaps the most significant depiction of the series, and what makes it truly striking, is that of the tension between India and Pakistan, which is at the heart of Ms. Marvel’s narrative. Although the South Asian subcontinent is known for sharing culture between cities and countries, there are still geopolitical issues that define the dynamics between them. Most relevant to Ms. Marvel is the turbulent relationship between India and Pakistan. Ms. Marvel acknowledges this by repeatedly talking about the partition of Pakistan and India after the British Empire lost its rule over those lands. Even though Sana gave some sugar-coated reasoning behind the split, her underlying message is that sticking firmly to a national identity won’t do much good for anyone. Likewise, this story ties in with the story of the Clandestines who were also displaced from their homes, giving meaning to the legacy and political history. Seeing these themes explored in mainstream media is unprecedented, seeing them explored in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems unimaginable. And yet here we are, with the same character that paved the way for South Asian representation in comic books again on TV. And in both cases, the creative team behind Ms. Marvel, across comics and TV, involved South Asians with lived experiences to draw from.
The portrayal of Ms. Marvel opens up new vistas of what portrayal and relatability can mean for South Asians living in America. More importantly, however, it is not based solely on culture and religion. It presents these aspects of the series in the trials and tribulations that all teenagers face, which is crucial in making it accessible to everyone. You may not be from Pakistan or a Muslim, but you certainly know what it’s like to have a goth phase as the subject of a family discussion, or to find yourself desperately over someone you think you’re out of your league.
Despite being laser-targeted at a niche group, Ms. Marvel manages to be eminently relatable by ensuring that, at its core, it remains a very human coming-of-age story. For people like me, it evokes laughter, sadness and pure excitement only because I couldn’t relate to media like this. But amid the action, discussions of jinn and history lessons on the score, there are understated moments of nuanced depictions of Muslims that are rare in American media. Ms. Marvel may be the story of how a young girl became a superhero, but her depiction of ordinary Muslim and South Asian everyday life is what makes it truly empowering.
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