Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America. You may have heard of these iconic characters from the Marvel Universe, but did you know there's a new hero added to the roster? Her name is Ms. Marvel. And guess what? She's Muslim. She's the first Muslim character to headline a comic book series. And now she's leaped from the pages of a book to our television screens.
Ms. Marvel is played by Iman Vellani, a Pakistani Canadian. Since this debut on Disney+ there's been no shortage of controversy. Some Muslims are welcoming Ms. Marvel with open arms, while others are less enthused. Let me share with you two reasons why I'm excited about this series.
First, seeing Muslims on the big screen helps youth normalize their identity and way of life. It's hard being a Muslim in America, especially in places where there isn't much diversity. When Disney, the biggest media and entertainment company, features a Muslim main character and a largely Muslim cast, it sends a message to Muslim teens that they belong.
They can be proud of who they are and accepted even if they're different from the norm.
Second, miss Marvel disrupts stereotypes about Muslims and introduces more authentic depictions. For some people, a series like this, is their primary source of information about Muslims. Thankfully, you won't find a terrorist or a submissive wife in this series. Ms. Marvel is the average American Muslim girl. She's struggling to stay focused at school and manage family expectations, as well as pursue her own dreams and passions, all at the same time. A lot of people can relate to that.
Of course, some say that while there's Muslim representation in Ms. Marvel, there's little Islamic representation. In other words, the series emphasizes cultural identity rather than religious identity. For example, when Nakia talks to Kamala about why she wears a head of scarf, she says: "I feel like me. I feel like I have a purpose." She doesn't say she's doing it for the sake of God. I think that's a fair criticism, but there is great diversity amongst Muslims. In fact, the majority of Muslims are non-practicing. It's not far off to imagine any number of headscarf-clad women, echoing Nakia's statement.
The other thing that people have issues with is that Ms. Marvel seems to be a Djinn in the third episode. This is a departure from the storyline of the comic book series. It's not clear where the series is going with this but the move seems bizarre and somewhat exoticizing. One thing I appreciate are all these inside references in this series that only Muslims would get. Like Nakia losing her shoes at the mosque. And a Kamala's comment about the partitions in the prayer hall. But expectations have been pretty high since Ms. Marvel was introduced as a Muslim character.
Muslims are pretty tired of being portrayed negatively in Hollywood movies.
And they've been waiting a long time for something a lot more sophisticated. So while Ms. Marvel is definitely a happy and positive portrayal of Muslims, some of it does appear a bit farcical and not well thought out. Like her brother spouting religious phrases frequently. And a wedding scene where men and women are dancing together. Something that would be unusual in many Muslim and even South Asian settings. And of course, it's pretty cliché that her parents are often portrayed as the butt of the joke. I've watched the series myself and overall I enjoyed it. I love that Muslims were included in the process from the outset.
The comic book series was written by a Muslim. And the Disney+ series was written and directed by a Muslim and has a predominantly Muslim cast. Ms. Marvel can be better of course, but I'm hopeful that'll come with time as more Muslims take ownership of the story creation process.