Marvel television has always been fascinatingly varied in genre, from the cerebral thriller that was Legion, to the espionage period drama of Agent Carter, to the angsty young adults of Cloak & Dagger. Thanks to the centralization of the MCU, this diversity has been a little constricted by a shared universe, with the thread of commonality tightening its Hollywood grip on more daring storylines. Nevertheless, the Disney industrial complex has made some gems with the artful early episodes of WandaVision a prime example of the storytelling potential still at large. Here, Ms. Marvel enters this entangled web of streaming shows with a charming coming-of-age.
From its opening sequence with those classic Avengers opening credits overlaid by an epic version of TikTok’s favourite ‘Blinding Lights,’ Ms. Marvel sets a deeply Millennial tone to introduce its deeply imaginative and creative heroine as she discovers she has powers. Closer in vibe to the Netflix’s Never Have I Ever or Heartstopper, what makes Ms. Marvel so exciting is the way it is shaped, not just by its teenage protagonist, but by Kamala’s Pakistani heritage, her Muslim faith and experiences as a two-culture kid living in Jersey City.
The dichotomy of Western individualism and expectations of rebellion versus the uncompromising sense of community, safety and stability of South Asian immigrants is highly specific, but if Bend It Like Beckham is anything to go by, portraying that profoundly personal experience can be just as widely loved. The added dimension of having such a Muslim family at the heart of a superhero comedy makes it all the more revolutionary. The script is interspersed with Arabic exclamations and Urdu nattering (weeping at hearing the endearment ‘beta’), and Kamala’s parents (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) aren’t demonized for their concern, balancing the strict and the lovable admirably.
When your appearance is heavily politicized, it is so nice to see characters like you just existing. Best friend Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) is a stand-out for me because hijabis are beautiful, opinionated and hilarious, speaking from personal experience, so to have the stupid meme gold of #deen, ‘the halal gap’ and ‘Illumin-aunties’ speak to my soul. Though the script is sometimes simplistic for a demographic starved of representation, it is nice to hear the everyday concerns of one’s life spelt out, like Nakia saying she feels empowered by her Hijab or Kamala’s frustrations with gossiping aunties.
This entry-level approach is likely needed for an American Disney audience with Kamala’s parents giving a dinner-table history 101 on Partition, explaining how badly the British left the country. However, little details like Kamala and Nakia complaining that the ladies section of the mosque is falling apart (struggles) and pointing out the double standards between the freedoms of brown girls compared to their brothers shows that this is a show written by Desis who know their community. This perspective is especially appreciated given that the high-status Muslim representation has been mainly from men like Riz Ahmed and Ramy Yusuf.
I’ve suffered from half-assed representation for so long, clinging to throwaway comments like an intern on Bones who took a prayer break or a character in Never Have I Ever saying she avoids eating pork, but nothing three-dimensional. Meanwhile, every corner of this show puts its complex identity at its forefront, from Kamala worrying her outfit is too tight to saying Bismillah before a driving test. And on top of this impressive level of detail, Kamala Khan is delightful. She’s messy, clumsy, a queen of procrastination and a daydreamer who doesn’t know what her future holds. Especially with the meta use of her being an Avengers fan before she gets her powers, her passion for fan fiction and cosplay is a little love letter to dedicated comic book fans.
Iman Vellani perfects the wide-eyed whimsy of adolescent strife, and much like Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Heartstopper or Into The Spiderverse, the vibrant aesthetic reflects the creativity of their protagonists and the graphic novel medium they were born of. Kamala’s texts appear in star lights, neon signs and road markings, and her costume brainstorming appears in animated graffiti behind her, all smoothly done and a joy to watch. Laura Karpman’s score will be one for the Spotify On Repeat, and much like Moon Knight, the music in the end credits makes me wish I was more multilingual.
From episodes 1 and 2, her superhero journey is just beginning, but what a magnificent start. Yes, it is on the nose that “brown girls from Jersey City don’t get to save the world.” Still, the weight of that sentiment shouldn’t be underestimated and let’s be honest; only a South Asian girl could pull off wearing a massive gold bangle without anyone batting an eye.
Ms. Marvel will be available weekly on Wednesdays starting June 8, only on Disney+
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Reviews, TV, Women Film-makers
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