The latest television show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe marks the screen debut of a new hero: Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. The six-episode series, set to premiere June 8 on Disney+, tells the story of 16-year-old superhero and Captain Marvel superfan Kamala. But it’s also about her Muslim Pakistani American immigrant family in Jersey City and how they navigate questions about identity and belonging.
Ms. Marvel stars Pakistani Canadian actor Iman Vellani as Kamala and features appearances from Pakistani actors Nimra Bucha and Fawad Khan, as well as Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar. “It was very important to us to have authentic voices from Pakistan play the characters,” says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Oscar-winning Pakistani documentarian who directed two episodes.
Kamala sets up the show’s premise in the first episode, telling her best friend Bruno Carrelli, “Let’s be honest. It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world.” But as the show unfolds, it turns out, it is.
We answered some of the biggest questions about Ms. Marvel.
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Where does Ms. Marvel fall in the MCU timeline?
Ms. Marvel takes place roughly a year or two after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Newcomer Vellani is expected to make her MCU big-screen debut in The Marvels, a film slated for a 2023 release that follows superheroes Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Monica Rambeau, who was introduced in WandaVision.
How are Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel connected?
In the 2014 Ms. Marvel comics that followed the character’s debut appearance the previous year, Kamala grows up admiring Captain Marvel, says co-creator Sama Amanat, who also executive-produced the show. “She ends up taking on her moniker because she wants to be so much like her and she’s morphing to look like her and we have hints of that in the show too,” Amanat says. “When Kamala gets her powers, what does she do? She tries to act like Captain Marvel.”
In the comics, Kamala first appears in a storyline with Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel’s civilian identity, but is seen as a voiceless character in the background. Before she becomes Captain Marvel, Danvers’ initial superhero moniker is Ms. Marvel, and not long after Kamala’s first appearance, she becomes the new Ms. Marvel.
In the show, as in the comics, Kamala is also a huge fan of the Avengers, and Captain Marvel in particular. The show’s pilot hinges on Kamala trying to cosplay as her favorite superhero at Avenger Con. While her parents initially shut down the idea, they later warm up to it, under certain conditions that she, as a rebellious teen, chooses not to follow.
In the MCU, Captain Marvel is one of the few women in the Avengers. Amanat explains that Kamala’s fascination with Captain Marvel is especially rooted in the elder superhero’s having blasted through an alien ship and almost taking out Thanos, as depicted in Endgame. “That’s why she looks up to her so much and is like—oh I want to be just like that. Superheroes exist in the world. Why can’t I be a part of it?” Amanat says.
How do the comic and TV show differ?
The origin and nature of Kamala’s superpowers in the comics and in the show are noticeably distinct.
In the comics, Kamala receives her powers after being exposed to terrigen mist, which gives her the ability to stretch and compress her body. In the TV show, the abilities appear to come from a mystical Pakistani bangle. There’s a scene in which her arms stretch out—a clear nod to the comics—but she can also use her fists to shoot out platforms, which she can climb, effectively walking on air.
The bangle unlocks the powers that were already within Kamala, Amanat says. “A cool thing the writers did was they linked the powers to something related to her past we thought would be very meaningful, and that was a smart way of talking about the metaphor of empowerment and linking that to heritage.”
This diversion from the comics has led to controversy among some fans. Vellani weighed in during an interview with SFX magazine, saying she was less concerned with the technicalities of Ms. Marvel’s powers and more interested in her growth as a person. “I think we stay true to what the comics brought. The themes have always been about identity and about marrying the 50 million things that make Kamala,” Vellani said. “For all I care, she could shoot sausages out of her fingers, as long as she still goes on that self-discovery journey.”
President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige spoke to Empire Magazine about why they changed her abilities. “We adapt the comics; it’s not an exact translation,” he said. “[Kamala] came about in a very specific time within the comic-book continuity. She is now coming into a very specific time within the MCU continuity. And those two things didn’t match.”
How does Ms. Marvel approach Muslim and Pakistani culture?
Pakistani audiences in particular will be familiar with the music, movies, fabrics, and food included in the show. There are references to Baazigar, one of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s movies, as well as popular songs from Pakistani artists, such as “Peechay Hutt,” from musicians Hasan Raheem, the Justin Bibis, and Talal Qureshi. “We’re finally letting the world into the secret that it’s quite cool to be South Asian, that our music, our food, our culture, our textiles are very, vibrant, rich, and special,” says Obaid-Chinoy.
Being cool matters, notes Amanat, who is herself a Pakistani American Muslim who grew up in New Jersey, just like Kamala. “You often see South Asians as the nerdy math person,” she says.
Ms. Marvel was inspired in part by Amanat’s life experiences. When she created the character with writer Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editor Stephen Wacker, she asked herself what it meant to be a Muslim girl. “Maybe you cover, maybe you wear clothes a certain way, you have to be very conscious of how you are with men and all these rules that come with it—I struggled with that a lot,” she says. “I look out at the world, and there’s all these images that either don’t look like me, or they look like bad versions of me.”
With Ms. Marvel, she hoped that young Muslim women could feel seen, regardless of how they practice their faith.
Ms. Marvel isn’t the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel Universe. Sooraya Qadir, who appeared in the animated TV show Wolverine and the X-Men as well as a video game cameo,—is a member of the X-Men. The character was born in Afghanistan before being sold into slavery, and has been criticized for orientalist depictions.
Disney has announced that it will be screening Ms. Marvel in theaters across Pakistan. “It’s an acknowledgement that this series is about you and a celebration of you and your culture,” Obaid-Chinoy says. “When you actually have people who are from the region tell the stories, It’s a very different way of storytelling.”
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