Ms. Marvel— Imperfect But Honest And Worth The Watch

“The show looks beyond just the life of being a teen in a world of heroes. Exploring what it means to navigate these spaces as a product of migration, colonialism and the ever-present desire for progress.”

Check out our review of #MsMarvel!

Ms. Marvel is less than a day away and while I’ve only seen the first two episodes, I don’t think I can adequately convey to you all how much I love this show already! But before we jump in, if you haven’t already check out our red carpet interview with Iman Vellani aka Kamala Khan herself!

The show starts with The Weekend’s Blinding Lights playing in the background. A fan film retelling the hero’s journey of Kamala’s favourite superhero begins, and just like that you fall in love. Within the first four and a half minutes alone, Ms. Marvel captures your attention and shows you precisely who Kamala Khan is. She’s a stan, a nerd, an artist and a kid with dreams more expansive than the world can comprehend. None of which could be possible without Iman Vellani’s portrayal of Kamala! She radiates the chaotic, clumsy and cartoonish energy we all know and love about Kamala Khan.

Iman Vellani at the Toronto red carpet for Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by George Pimentel Photography. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Iman Vellani at the Toronto red carpet for Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL.
Photo by George Pimentel Photography. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

And it’s not just Vellani who breathes life into her role. The whole Khan family brings to the screen the quintessential Desi household. Zenobia Shroff’s Muneeba Khan is the loving yet overprotective and overbearing mom. Mohan Kapur plays Yusuf Khan, Kamala’s caring and overenthusiastic Abbu (father in Urdu). Saagar Shaikh plays Aamir, the perfect sibling everyone compares you to. Together the four of them not just embody their respective roles; they bring a slice of our lives to screens. In a way that can only be done when drawing from lived experiences.

I won’t lie. The adaptation is by no means a xerox copy of Kamala’s comic book life. But I can confidently say that I prefer this version of it. It’s more accurate. More rooted in the realities of growing up in an immigrant family that has precariously balanced culture with assimilation. The Khans primarily speak English at home, with Urdu sprinkled throughout like a dash chaat masala. They beautifully weave their cultural values and reverence for Islam into their lives. Like with artfully designed Islamic calligraphy displayed proudly in the living room. But it doesn’t stop there; Ms. Marvel takes it several steps further and brings real depth and wholeness to its story. 

(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir, and Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir, and Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

We don’t just have Kamala’s perspective. We get a more comprehensive look at the experiences of the Desi diaspora stretching as far back as colonial times with a discussion of Partition. The show looks beyond just the life of being a teen in a world of heroes. Exploring what it means to navigate these spaces as a product of migration, colonialism and the ever-present desire to progress. It happens in little ways that show you that Kamala’s parents aren’t the stereotypical strict Pakistani Muslim family hellbent on conformity.

Not only do they support her friendship with Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz), treating him as they would any other Desi kids from the community, they’re in a group chat with him. They show a genuine interest in Kamala’s life, aspirations, and goals for herself. Even laughing together while recalling Aamir’s emo phase with Kamala and Aamir’s fiance. Beyond just their love and attentiveness for their children, Yusuf and Muneeba Khan share an expressive and open love for each other. Something that we rarely see in representations of Asian, specifically Desi couples. It’s heartwarming to see an older generation of Desis be so full of joy, love and lightness because too often does life in the West steal that from them.

We get to see snippets of this love and affection the family has for each other in the show’s teasers and trailers. Like the hilarious bada Hulk, choti Hulk scene between Kamala and her parents. But much like real life, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine.

Just as the show does its absolute best to showcase the joys and warmth of Pakistani households and communities, it acknowledges the challenges too. In the comics, the infamous scene leads to Kamala’s Terrigenesis after she sneaks out to a party. In that scene, while in her Terrigen cocoon, a vision of Captain Marvel scolds Kamala for sneaking out and asks her what she wants from her life. The show recreates that scene in a powerful and very intimate way between Kamala and her mother. There’s no yelling or screaming, no dramatic haranguing about right or wrong; it’s a mother’s concerns coloured through the lens of tradition and expectation.

In that scene, Kamala’s mom asks her to become more serious about life, evaluate what matters to her, and prioritize herself and her future. But the way Muneeba’s monologue is written is so skillfully done it’s a masterclass in writing from a cultural perspective. Her concern shifts from telling Kamala to focusing on herself to centring family and the collective. Within seconds subtly but noticeably shifting the tone of her message back to familial service and expectations. Something all immigrant kids are all familiar with, the constant pressure of trying to live up to your elders’ ideals. To make something of yourself, but that something has to fit neatly into the mould created by generations passed.

Perfectly bringing to screens an honest representation of what being a kid in a Desi household can be like. No matter how quote-unquote progressive and open-minded our parents may be. The kernels of cultural expectations hammered into them during their formative years still pop up when the time comes for them to become adults themselves.

And like I said before, these conversations don’t just happen within the Khan family. We see them taking place all around them as well. We see it at the boutique when Kamala is shopping, and her mom and an auntie get together to do some chugali about someone’s daughter. Gossiping about how this random girl going backpacking is seemingly the worst thing she could do to her family. We see it when Kamala and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) are at the masjid for Asr (afternoon prayer). Nakia comments to Kamala that the women’s side of the masjid is in disrepair while the men get to be front and centre for the Imam’s teachings. The Imam overhearing the chatter, swiftly tells the pair that he’s glad they feel empowered to speak up but now is not the time.

The social commentary is so tactfully embedded into every facet of Ms. Marvel that even the show’s score lends itself to the conversations. Composer Laura Karpman’s discerning ear follows the story playing out on the screen to a T. Fluidly following the shifts in tone and setting and taking you as the viewer on a genuinely thrilling adventure along with Kamala. Sometimes with subtle changes from western music to traditional South Asian instrumentals. Other times infusing the scenes with influences from hip-hop and occasionally explicitly joining the storytelling with Urdu rap that lends itself to building emotion of the moment. And just as the score complements the story, so does the costuming.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

The show’s costume department uses Western and traditional Desi clothing very purposefully to tell a distinct story. Be it with the haphazard Hulk costume/salwar kameez Kamala’s mom throws together for her to use as cosplay versus Kamala’s actual costume. Or the brief conversation had around Nakia’s hijab is done with reverence and sensitivity that shows obvious mindfulness for the character and her development. Even without explicitly stating it, the costuming and wardrobe in Ms. Marvel understatedly explore the impact that cultural differences in clothing and modesty can have on a person’s relationship with their body image.

The creative leadership behind the scenes put incredible amounts of time and effort into every microscopic detail of the show. Their passion for the project and the story being told shines throughout every second, which leaves me excited to see what’s the come. But that doesn’t mean that the series is without its faults. As with most projects that focus on the Asian experience Ms. Marvel occasionally paints the story of a Pakistani teen and community with a wide brush, and that scale ranges greatly. 

Sometimes from minor things that wouldn’t be clockable to those outside the know. But they’re apparent enough to where they might catch Desis off guard. Like Kamala’s father saying Chaak De Phatte in his Hulk costume, a phrase that’s more commonly associated with Indian Punjabis than Pakistani Punjabis. Or the use of Rajkumari, the Hindi word for princess, in place of the Urdu Shehzadi.

Other times, it walks right into obvious pitfalls. Like how the show makes a point to state when covering the topic of Partition, there is a long and painful history shared between the South Asian subcontinent. Maybe one day soon, Desis will have healed our intercommunity traumas and settled our disputes where casting anyone for any role won’t be an issue. But till then, no matter how impressive their portrayals of the characters, the casting of non-Pakistani to play Pakistanis and vice versa should be something casting directors are more mindful of.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Overall, Ms. Marvel managed to speak to me on a personal level that I honestly didn’t think was possible. Despite its casting issues and occasional cultural mishmash, its earnest efforts to create meaningful representation got me. It captured the essence of Kamala Khan and brought it to my screens with a fresh face. Allowing for a young Pakistani girl to stand in the spotlight and thrive. The score left me drumming my fingers on my table, and the lyrics had me enraptured with their poetic verses. I’m feeling an optimism I didn’t know I was capable of, and have to give the series a solid 8/10. I can’t wait to see what the following episodes have to offer. Hopefully, they do my love for Kamala Khan justice.

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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