At ‘Mrs. Marvel’ Muslim fans see a reflection of their lives

LOS ANGELES – Jumana Zakir knows who she will be on Halloween this year. Tip: Your new favorite superhero is very similar to her – female, youthful, Muslim, American and “awesome”.

“I am Kamala Khan,” said the exuberant 13-year-old from Anaheim, California. “She’s just like me.”

Khan is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Muslim superhero to direct her own television show. “MS. Marvel,” which launched June 8 on Disney+, has resonated with South Asian Muslims in the West for its relationship building and portrayal of Muslim families. Advocates of inclusion and representation hope the show will open the door to more nuanced on-screen portrayals of Muslims and their families will open rich diversity.

The show tells the story of Khan, played by Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani, who draws her powers from a magical bracelet that allows her to walk in the air and summon glowing shields of light. But she’s also a regular South Asian Muslim teenage girl who goes to mosque, performs wudu or ablutions before praying, sometimes wears traditional clothing called shalwar kameez, dances to Bollywood numbers at her brother’s wedding, and breaks curfew to go along with her hanging out with her buddy Bruno Carrelli at AvengerCon.

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The last episode of the series is expected to be released on Wednesday.

Munir Zamir, who is British Pakistani and grew up in East London, said he saw a “brown Pakistani Muslim girl from New Jersey” in the comics and is now “Ms. Marvel” with his teenage children – was powerful. Zamir, 50, has been a Marvel fan since he was 7 and has followed Kamala Khan’s development since Ms. Marvel’s introduction to comics in 2014.

“Especially for Muslims, representation is very important because for many years misrepresentation has had too much meaning,” he said.

Zamir points out that there are other Muslim superheroes like Sooraya Qadir aka Dust in the Marvel Universe. Wearing a flowing black outfit, she covers her hair and face, and can turn her body into a cloud of dust.

“Even in that description there are some classic tropes,” said Zamir. “But Kamala Khan is not an exotic woman from a Muslim country. That immediately sets her apart in the Marvel Universe.”

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The diverse experiences of Muslim women in “Ms. Marvel” are among the aspects that contrast the findings of a report published last year examining Muslim representation in 200 top-grossing films from the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand released between 2017 and 2019.

The study found that women were particularly underrepresented, with only 23.6% of the Muslim characters in these films being female. Led by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, with support from others, she also found that 90.5% of these films contained no Muslim-speaking characters, yet 39% of the “primary and secondary” Muslim characters were violent offenders.

Making Ms. Marvel more accessible was intentional, said Sana Amanat, one of Kamala Khan’s creators and the series’ executive producer. She wanted to portray a Muslim character who “feels like someone you know.”

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“She’s not going to be put on a pedestal,” she said. “She’s clumsy. She is funny. She’s a sweet person who ultimately wants to do better.”

Amanat and her co-creators felt it was important to show Khan’s everyday life as a Muslim-American teenager.

This idea of ​​normalcy resonated with Hiba Bhatty, a Pakistani-American fan of the show. She particularly liked how Khan’s father, Yusuf, was portrayed as a “loving father” as opposed to a scary cliché.

Bhatty, a Los Angeles-based architect, previously displayed Ms. Marvel comics on her desk as a conversation starter. Now she’s preparing to give colleagues a “Ms. Marvel” presentation. For her, this is an example of how many in her community have taken to not just being portrayed as “ordinary Americans,” but actually telling their own nuanced stories.

“MS. Marvel” also “reclaims language that has been weaponized against Muslims,” ​​said Arij Mikati, executive director of culture change at the Pillars Fund, which supports Muslim leaders and artists.

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In one scene, Khan and her family happily break into chants of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” to celebrate her brother’s wedding.

“When you hear the call to prayer, it’s usually a sign that you’re in an unsafe place on TV,” Mikati said. “And all of those things are being reclaimed on this show… That’s really nice because those everyday, little moments of our faith have really been taken from us in the media.”

Pillars Fund initiatives include a database of Muslim artists created in collaboration with and with support from The Walt Disney Company to involve more Muslims in the filmmaking process.

“A superhero story isn’t a genre you would expect a Muslim to be in, and I think it’s great that this story changes that,” Mikati said.

The show touches on issues from mosque surveillance to what wearing headscarves means to some. Khan’s girlfriend, headscarf-wearing Nakia Bahadir, is played by Yasmeen Fletcher. One of the most important conversations between Khan and Bahadir takes place in the girls’ restroom, where Bahadir deliberately talks about how she feels putting on her hijab.

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Jumana, the Anaheim teenager who plans to wear a hijab in a year or two, said she appreciates the show’s portrayal of what the hijab means to some young girls like her.

“My non-Muslim friends already know about my decision and respect it,” she said. “But if more people can realize that by watching this show, that’s great.”

Fletcher said she was touched by such strong reactions.

“The whole point of Nakia’s character is to break the stereotypes about hijabi women,” she said.

For the show’s seven writers – four of whom are Pakistani – it was crucial to portray Muslims and South Asians realistically, said the show’s head writer Bisha K. Ali, who is British Pakistani.

“We hungered to be seen in a way that was celebrated and beautiful and that came from a place of love and compassion,” she said.

While it’s impossible to capture the experiences of nearly 2 billion Muslims, Ali said the authors focused on telling the story of this one family in an authentic way.

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The show takes a similar approach to the partition discussion in 1947, when British India was divided along religious lines into India and Pakistan, sparking one of the largest mass migrations in history. The violence caused by tensions between Hindus and Muslims led to a refugee crisis, which the show weaves as part of Khan’s family history.

Ali said the aim of the show isn’t to point fingers in any direction, but rather to tell a family’s story about the cross-generational trauma unleashed by this chapter of history and “a sense of empathy for the pain.” on all sides”.

Ali described the mood in the writer’s room as “incredibly emotional” as they discussed how their mosques had grown and contacted relatives via WhatsApp for more details.

Sitting in the belly of Marvel Studios in a windowless conference room, Ali said she lost count of the number of times the writers looked at each other as if to ask, “Are we really here? Are we really doing this?”

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Fam reported from Winter Park, Florida.

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The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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https://www.local10.com/entertainment/2022/07/12/in-ms-marvel-muslim-fans-see-a-reflection-of-their-lives/ At ‘Mrs. Marvel’ Muslim fans see a reflection of their lives

Sarah Y. Kim

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