Just two episodes in and Marvel’s newest show is making waves, not least because it features the comic behemoth’s first Muslim superhero front and centre.
On review website Rotten Tomatoes, Ms. Marvel currently holds an impressive 95 per cent score, with the consensus being the show is a “genuinely fresh addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe”.
The rank, at the time of writing, is higher than many of Marvel’s blockbuster films, including Avengers Endgame, and is tied with the series Agents of S.H.I.EL.D. in first place for highest-rated TV shows.
Actress Iman Vellani, who was plucked from obscurity to play the hero on the Disney+ series, also wins a chunk of the acclaim owing to her “super-sized charisma”.
In the show, she plays Pakistani-American Kamala Khan, a teenager from New Jersey who obsesses about the Avengers but struggles to fit in among her peers. That is, until she discovers she has superpowers and becomes Ms Marvel.
For many Pakistanis, the history-making comic book character and now major TV show, is not only a “huge” step towards representation, but one that could also change the way South Asians, particularly Pakistanis, are perceived in popular culture.
“This is how we are,” says Pakistani writer and Dubai resident Sadiq Saleem. “I would say that Sharmeen [Obaid-Chinoy, one of the directors] has put the record straight. This is how our parents treated us when we were kids. It worked like a deja vu for me.”
Watching Ms. Marvel feels like a “special edition of a Marvel franchise because it’s so non-traditional”, Saleem tells The National.
“Who would have thought that a young Muslim female will be shown as a superhero in a Hollywood flick? That’s not something which happens too often.”
For Koko Zuberi, who works at UN Women on partnerships and outreach, the show was a reflection of her childhood in the US.
“As someone who struggled with her Muslim and Pakistani identity growing up in the US, Ms. Marvel has been such a delight to watch. Representation really matters and I hope that inclusive and diverse shows like this are helpful to the future generations of diaspora communities in particular,” she says.
“Major credit to the creators who have been so thoughtful in all the details, from casting, language, and other day-to-day nuances that truly embody a desi American teenager’s experience. I’m excited for the road ahead for all of us.”
With Disney+ still not officially available in Pakistan, Oscar-winning director Obaid-Chinoy, who leads two upcoming episodes, announced special screenings would be held in cinemas across the country.
“This decision was made to celebrate the introduction of the first Pakistani Marvel superhero into the MCU. The series also features a diverse cast both in front of and behind the camera. Disney and Marvel did not want Pakistani audiences to miss out on seeing Ms. Marvel and her story,” she shared on Instagram.
For Faisal Kapadia, the chief executive of Mindmap Communications in Karachi, the best thing about the show is its relatability.
“The nuance of a Pakistani family, the humour and the layers of emotions involved in growing up in one is done so flawlessly that everyone watching will get involved,” he says. “Plus, it’s so amazing that the world will get to identify with our culture and understand what it’s actually like to be a person with brown skin who has dreams.”
Aamna Haider Isani, the editor in chief of Something Haute, a Karachientertainment and lifestyle channel on YouTube, agrees.
“The Marvel multiverse is huge and the fact that it has a Muslim, Pakistani, female superhero really means something,” she says. “It gives Pakistani characters an identity, a representation that has so far been missing from global popular culture,” she says.
Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan aka Ms Marvel. All photos: Marvel Studios
“And we can relate. We all keep telling our children to start everything, anything by saying ‘Bismillah’. How cool is it that Kamala Khan does too.”
Mother-of-two Malika Merchant, a human resource manager in Toronto, Canada, says she was excited to see the dynamics between Vellani’s character and her family.
“I am an overseas Pakistani and I have two kids. I can’t begin to share how elated I felt when I saw the interactions between Kamala and her parents. I could sense how they wanted to keep her close to their cultural roots. That’s how most of us expats live like,” she says.
For Pakistani musician Samie Tariq, who is in the UAE, the show featuring music by Pakistani rapper Eva B was a highlight.
Eva B, who is known for her punchy rap style and veiled face, recently told The National she saw a spike in her popularity after she appeared on the hugely successful Coke Studio Pakistan series.
“What also made me super proud was Eva B’s rap in the end, the lyrics were so empowering,” says Tariq. “So far I’ve felt that the show has done a brilliant job depicting the actual cultural conflicts and nuances of a moderately conservative desi household.
“Iman has been absolutely remarkable in her acting. I had literal goosebumps when she discovered her power for the first time. I’m looking forward to seeing a generation of desi kids inspired by a superhero they can relate to.”
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