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Ms. Marvel: The Importance Of Muslim Representation

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Growing up a Muslim girl in North America, I realized quickly how rare it was for someone that looks like me to be on the big screen.

To be honest, I never thought a day would come where a Muslim would be seen as anything more than a threat or a victim in Hollywood.

In 2021 the Annenberg Inclusion initiative published a shocking study titled “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies” in collaboration with Oscar winning actor Riz Ahmed. The study showed that less than 2% of speaking characters in major movies released between 2017 and 2019 were Muslim. Additionally, “more than one-third of those characters were depicted as ‘perpetrators of violence,’ while more than half were shown to be victims of it.”

The fight for Muslim representation in Hollywood — and the danger of falling behind, CBC.

Muslim constitute nearly a quarter of the world population. Their misrepresentation has serious consequences that go beyond our screens. This is exactly why we need characters like Kamala Khan.

Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey is a Marvel superhero. She is Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book which debuted in February 2014.

Kamala was created to connect with others through her struggles. Just like our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man; It was important for her creators that Ms. Marvel was a nuanced, reliable, and rich character:

As much as Islam is a part of Kamala’s identity, this book is […] about your sense of self. It’s a struggle we’ve all faced in one form or another and isn’t just particular to Kamala because she’s Muslim. Her religion is just one aspect of the many ways she defines herself”

Wheeler, Andrew (November 6, 2013). “All-New Marvel NOW! Q&A: Ms. Marvel!”. Marvel.com. Archived from the original on November 7, 2013. Retrieved November 7, 2013.

When the news of a Ms. Marvel Disney+ show came out (2021), I didn’t know how to feel. As a Muslim Woman, I was both excited and scared. Excited to finally get a brown Muslim hero, to be included in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), and scared because I didn’t want to have too many expectations and get disappointed.

Then the official trailer came out in March 2022. I was happy to realize that this new female character was unapologetically Muslim. Unapologetically Pakistani. Unapologetically herself.

(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir, and Nimra Bucha as Najma in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

I decided then that Kamala would mean hope for me. Hope to finally have an accurate and good representation of Muslims in the media.

Wanting to hear from other creators, I reached out to my friend Neebs (@watchwithNeebz), A Muslim Pakistani-American from New Jersey. Here’s what he had to say:

“One of the things that is so important about Ms. Marvel is that she doesn’t feel comfortable in her own skin, literally. Something so many teenagers can relate to. Therefore, when she first transforms for the first time, she turns into Carol’s version of Ms. Marvel. A blue eyed, blonde hair, tall, white woman in a revealing outfit. To Kamala Khan, this is what beauty and strength looks like but most of all, this is what a hero looks like.

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

The most important thing about Kamala is not her power but her journey. Something we know we will get to see in the new show judging by the line, “It’s not the brown girls from Jersey City that go on to save the world.” When I heard this line, I knew this show was something special. I knew this was a show I needed when I was growing up. Many South Asian kids find themselves distancing from their culture out of fear of mockery, bullying, and sometimes even violence. Perhaps if a show like Ms. Marvel existed when I was in Highschool, it would not have taken me so long to fall back in love with my culture. […]”

Neebz is actually working with the Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs to organize a giant screening of the first two episodes of Ms. Marvel in a park!

“I want young brown kids to know that no matter what they feel or what they have been told, it is the brown girls from Jersey City who go on to save the world. This line is the heart of who Ms. Marvel is. If the show can capture this element in a way that is moving and powerful, it won’t matter if they changed her powers. Kamala is too important to too many people to let a change in powers overshadow what an agent of change she can be, an “embiggening” reminder that good is not something you are, but something you do.”

Here is it again: Hope. Ms. Marvel means so much already for a community that has been starving to see itself be the hero for once.

For now, I believe we should celebrate the arrival of Ms. Marvel. While it is still too early to assess the impact that Kamala khan will have on Hollywood, I think it is safe to say that she is a beacon of new possibilities for Muslims and South Asian people.

Ms. Marvel premieres exclusively on Disney+ on June 8th, 2022.

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