Ms Marvel an important 'homage to all Muslim women', say directors

A still from Ms Marvel.
PHOTO: Disney+

Ms Marvel, played by 19-year-old Iman Vellani, is the latest addition to Marvel's list of teen superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Phase 4.

But more than that, she also serves as a huge "homage" to the South Asian community, especially Muslims.

In a virtual interview on Thursday (June 2), Ms Marvel director Adil El Arbi said the team wanted to "make a universal story" that audiences could relate to and empathise with, regardless of gender, age and race.

"We tried to make a story of this Pakistani Muslim American girl who's searching for her identity and who she is, and this relates to us being Moroccan Belgians as we had the same kind of struggle when we were teenagers," shared Adil.

"I think it's important to have this homage to all the Muslim women in our lives — my wife or [director Bilall Fallah's] sister and nieces and mother, that Iman represents that character and they relate to her and they recognise themselves in that character."

From left: Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and executive producer Sana Amanat behind the scenes of Marvel Studios' Ms Marvel. PHOTO: Disney+

Ms Marvel is a six-episode series on Disney+ featuring Kamala Khan (Iman), a Muslim American teenager from Jersey City and a superhero megafan, especially when it comes to Captain Marvel. She's always struggled to fit in, both at school and at home, until she gains superpowers like the heroes she's always looked up to.

Ms Marvel is also Marvel Studios' first Muslim superhero.

Recalling his own experiences as a Moroccan Belgian growing up "between these two worlds", similar to Adil, fellow director Bilall Fallah said that it gave him a personal connection to Ms Marvel and Kamala.

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"Me and Adil, we're Moroccan Belgians, and we are like in between these two worlds. Like how Kamala Khan is between American culture and Pakistan Islamic culture and she's trying to figure out who she is," said Bilall.

"It's kind of like a coming-of-age story, which makes it also very universal. But at the same time, she's really struggling with her traditional parents and the high school world. All of that really connected with us personally."

American executive producer Sana Amanat added: "The challenges with Kamala's traditions and her family, it's not about her rejecting it. I think it's about her just trying to figure out who she is."

"I think often we hear stories of people of colour, or especially Muslim stories, where it feels like you have to reject your faith or reject your culture in order to feel like you're belonging, and that's not what we're doing.

"What we're telling is the story of a girl who accepts all of these things in her life, but she just doesn't know her place within all of it. And I think figuring out that journey and that identity story was really important to all of us because we all went through it, as Bilall said, in many different ways."

Ms Marvel premieres June 8 on Disney+.

estherlam@asiaone.com