By Aymen Sherwani, June 30 2022—
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers about the Ms. Marvel show on Disney+.
Pride would be an understatement to describe the way I felt while watching the first episode of Ms. Marvel, the newest addition to Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) roster. In the past, we’ve seen incredible — yet, maybe a little unrelatable — origin stories of Marvel superheroes, from what seems like an ever-growing list of gods, aliens and billionaires with daddy issues or relationship problems. Superhero stories are different now because they no longer seek to define the parameters of a ‘hero’ as a larger than life, insanely sculpted White man who occasionally throws out a witty one-liner — sometimes, it’s a 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl named Kamala Khan from Jersey City.
While only three episodes of the show have been released, all three have completely blown me away just because of how well they were written. Yes, there were times where I felt like someone had secretly spied on my thoughts, insecurities and conversations and put them all in one show, but then it hit me — that’s how you know that something good happened here. Whether it be vibrant Eids, gossiping auntiyan, Ko Ko Koreena, big, fat, week-long Pakistani weddings — or even saying bismillah before you drive — Ms. Marvel is, without a doubt, the first time that the Pakistani diaspora has ever been represented with this much accuracy. The show also takes a more serious tone and addresses the generational-gaps experienced by Pakistanis that grew up in North America and their parents that immigrated from Pakistan.
For instance, facing anxiety surrounding ‘tight clothes’ and being judged by my parents, who would much rather me wear a shalwar kameez rather than my Lululemon leggings, is something that defined my coming-of-age years. This is alongside the struggle that every brown, Muslim girl experiences with feeling heard in a community that would much rather push us to the seriously-in-need-of-renovation side of the masjid. Ms. Marvel’s depiction of a strong, Muslim woman, Nakia, who’s willing to stand up against oppression within and for her community is quite literally the antithesis of what we’ve seen in Hollywood.
“One of the things that I really loved was the religion aspect of the show because you don’t usually see Muslim characters practicing Islam in an accurate way in movies,” said Fatima Tariq, a Calgary-based, long-time Marvel fan who weighed in on just how important the show is for her. “The way that Muslim people are represented on screen directly affects the policies that are in place, so I think that this is a very important step because a lot of Muslim people are seen as terrorists because of bad screenwriting.”
Most importantly, Ms. Marvel makes a point of highlighting the heavy weight of the trauma that burdens so many of us as a result of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan — a time where many families were separated and lost as a result of mob violence, my own included. In the second episode, Khan’s brother says “every Pakistani family has a Partition story, and none of them are good.”
I know it was supposed to be about the origin of her great-grandmother’s magical bangle, but the fact that it was addressed at all made my blood run cold and remember the experiences of my own grandparents — how they themselves had to leave everything they knew behind, get on a train headed towards the notion of a new nation. We talk about the importance of representation and constantly call for more of our people to be casted in huge projects like this, but watching someone like me have their own superhero origin story — one that is rooted in a tragedy so many of our families have faced — is everything. It’s more representation than Raj from Big Bang Theory or Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb could have ever been because, unlike those two, Ms. Marvel wasn’t written to serve as comedic relief but it wasn’t meant to portray a hyper-idealistic version of the Pakistani diaspora either.
“It’s literally representing the good and the bad, yes, but a lot of people were like ‘Kamala’s mom is the real villain of the story’ but that’s how South Asian moms are — a lot of them have their own generational trauma to carry,” said Tariq. “Kamala’s mom was neglected by her own mother — her own mother was a daydreamer too and never lived in reality so you can kind of understand how she’s trying to get Kamala to not turn into her nani because of what she went through.”
Despite the show scoring a 96 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, the show was ‘review-bombed’ with extremely low ratings on IMDB — a coordinated user attack on a particular show or movie with the intent to lower it’s ratings on the charts. Many reviews on the platform criticize the show for being too childish or that it’s too caught up with pandering to wokeness — which is shorthand for ‘this isn’t about me for once, and I don’t like it.’
During our conversation, Tariq compared Ms. Marvel’s story to the all-too-familiar, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, stating that “if you’re looking at Miles Morales or Peter Parker and going ‘Oh my God, that’s so cool’ or thinking that it gets you in touch with your inner child but when it comes to Kamala’s story you’re bashing her — when she has a really similar storyline — I think is definitely rooted in racism and sexism.
“We need to be able to tell more stories about different types of people — that’s why representation is important — we need to be able to see the people that we see in real life on the screen — we need to be able to tell their stories,” she continued. “You need to denormalize the White narrative as being like the narrative of cinema.”
When you hear things like ‘Ms. Marvel is just unrelatable,’ it’s probably time to take a step back and question how you could ever relate to fictional Norse gods or billionaire weapons manufacturers in any way other than that they happen to be portrayed by White men. At the same time, if Marvel can make three entire movies for Thor and have an additional one in the works — with all of them using Norse mythology as their foundation — then Ms Marvel shouldn’t be a big deal because Kamala Khan is every one of us.
Hollywood has convinced us long enough that it isn’t cool to be brown. We had been told that our accents are worthy of ridicule, that our food is funky — I will defend pickled mangoes until I die — or that our existence sadly, like the Mindy Kaling’s, Russell Peter’s and Aziz Ansari’s is doomed to be one of a caricature. The nuance in Ms. Marvel sends out one clear message — we are so much more than all that.
Episodes of Ms. Marvel are released every Wednesday on Disney+, if you haven’t started the show yet, I strongly hope this article changes your mind.
This article is a part of our Voices section.