Disney+ has finally found its Ms. Marvel, a newcomer ready to break down barriers and stereotypes. Iman Vellani, the daughter of Pakastani Muslim immigrants, will play Ms. Marvel, aka Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager growing up in New Jersey. While Ms. Marvel first appeared in 2014 as Marvel’s first Muslim character to star in her own title — including TV shows Avengers Assemble and Marvel Rising: Initiation — Vellani’s casting will make Kamala Marvel Studios’ first live-action, on-screen Muslim hero. Per reports, Vellani will play the character in an eponymous series on Disney+, as well as making appearances in future Marvel films. In doing so, she’ll take the Marvel Cinematic Universe a few steps closer to encapsulating the real one.
Middle Eastern and Muslim-Americans rarely hear news like this. In fact, it wasn’t until recently, when Hulu’s Ramy burst onto the scene in 2019, that for the first time in 29 years, I finally saw myself, my family, and my culture represented on screen. I can’t stress how moving it was to see a portrayal of a first-generation Middle Eastern and Muslim-American that was funny, real, emotional, and stereotypical in all the best ways. The tropes of the “terrorist” were nowhere to be found. The actors and crew were Middle Eastern. This show was made for us. And what felt even greater was that when I suggested the show to my non-Middle Eastern friends, they loved it just as much. There’s a sense of pride in that series, as if in some way, it belongs to us, too. Having the validation that others outside of our Middle Eastern bubble also sang its praises was something I’ve never experienced.
That’s why Ms. Marvel is so important.
This is a chance to finally peek inside the world of a Muslim-American teen; one who is not only balancing her super powers, but her culture and her religion. She’s not cast as the subservient Muslim woman or as someone who is using her powers to aid a terrorist group. She’s Ms. Marvel, a superhero that looks, feels, and acts like a girl going through your everyday growing pains — she just has a little something extra that makes her stand out from the crowd. In fact, she’s a true representation of what this country really looks like.
As important as it is that Vellani is representing the Muslim experience, it’s just as important that we see casting decisions like these from studios like Marvel and others, as normal. Marvel has already made huge strides with films like Black Panther and the upcoming Eternals, which will also feature the first deaf actor and superhero in the on-screen MCU. But these casting choices have to keep coming and be celebrated by more than just the brown stars in the industry. While it’s great to see shows of support from Mindy Kaling and Kumail Nanjiani, we need that same energy from the Chris Evanses and Scarlett Johanssons of the world. Our country is a beautiful mix of diverse bodies, religions, and ideas that are more of who we are than who we are not. While this representation is crucial and comes at a time where things feel anything but united, it’s the normalization of roles like this that will continue to open the doors for more projects like Ms. Marvel and Ramy. This way, it won’t take 29 years or more for so many people, especially fans, to finally see themselves on screen.