Home Muslim culture Ms. Marvel is the superhero Muslim girls have been waiting for

Ms. Marvel is the superhero Muslim girls have been waiting for

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Growing up as a brunette Muslim girl in America, it was hard to relate to female characters on the big screen – none of them looked like me, to begin with. A year after I was born, Disney released Aladdinand because of her skin color and Middle Eastern-sounding name, Princess Jasmine, by default, has become the Disney heroine of choice for many young girls like me.

Princess Jasmine, however, was hardly a heroine. She was a secondary character, not a main role, seemingly oppressed by her life in the palace, and had to be shown “a whole new world” by a man. Not to mention that she was strongly orientalized; one of the only Disney Princesses to be portrayed in a harem-inspired costume instead of an elegant dress.

I remember trying to accessorize a teal-toned shalwar kameez while dressing up as Princess Jasmine one Halloween. A few years later, I bought myself a pink Power Ranger costume. Popular, relatable female characters that didn’t fit cultural or gender stereotypes were clearly lacking in the ’90s.

Now, 30 years after Disney’s debut of Princess Jasmine, we’re witnessing the birth of a new female character – one who’s unabashedly dark, Muslim, and blessed with majestic superpowers. Ms. Marvel, an original series from Marvel Studios, will begin streaming on Disney+ in June, and its main character is Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani teenager living in New Jersey who gains the miraculous ability to harness cosmic energy.

The trailer, which was released yesterday, gives a glimpse into the world of this American Muslim teenager as she navigates high school life. In less than two minutes, viewers see Kamala’s name mispronounced, her personal style criticized, a congregational prayer in the mosque and a split second of a Bollywood dance sequence. She’s a girl who has crushes on boys and daydreams, but also fantasizes about a bigger life, as she discovers her true identity. “It’s not really the brunette girls of Jersey City saving the world,” she says, expressing impostor syndrome insecurities that are all too common among women of color in real life.

Not only the creators of Ms. Marvel cast a brownface as its female superhero, but they cast Iman Vellani, a young Pakistani-Canadian Muslim woman who shares many similarities with her on-screen character. The series was created by British Muslim screenwriter Bisha K Ali and stars Emmy Award-winning Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as one of the female directors.

More exciting for me is the prospect of introducing my own daughter to the mainstream media that portrays Muslim women in a positive, not to say powerful and light-hearted way.

Muslims have long awaited a more authentic portrayal like this in Hollywood, where our cultures are given the nuance and layers they deserve, and our characters are played by real members of our communities. While shows such as The fat guy created fictional Muslim women with more complexities, Ms. Marvel seems like a more balanced and relevant role for younger audiences.

More exciting for me is the prospect of introducing my own daughter to the mainstream media that portrays Muslim women in a positive, if not powerful, light. For when it comes to the rare inclusion of Muslim women on screen, the result is usually one of two extremes – terrorists and dehumanized fundamentalists, or ultra-liberals who might even denounce their faith outright. .

But filmmakers and TV directors are now heeding the call for more diversity and better representation, thanks in large part to people of color in the industry who understand the need for more depth and precision when it comes to is about representing brown communities. Just last year, Mindy Kaling and Amazon Studios announced they would be adapting Hana Khan continues, a romantic comedy novel by Muslim writer Uzma Jalaluddin, in theaters. And with the literary world awash with outstanding Muslim fiction novels aimed at young adult readers, the industry is ripe with more stories to translate from paper to screen.

The movement is certainly gaining momentum in the upper echelons of Hollywood. Last summer, Oscar-nominated Muslim actor Riz Ahmed launched the New Muslim Media Representative Initiative to help rectify what he called “the problem of misrepresentation of Muslims on screen.”

Although it is still too early to understand how much Ms. Marvel could address and combat Islamophobic stereotypes throughout the series, I think it’s safe to say that this “whole new world” offers a lot more magic to Muslim women than the very limited typographies we’ve been confined to by the past film and television productions.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 11:53 a.m.