Thursday, September 29, 2022

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

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) — Jumana Zakir knows who she’ll be for Halloween this year. Hint: Her new favorite superhero looks a lot like her: female, teen, Muslim, American, and “totally amazing.”

“Kamala Khan is me,” said the buxom 13-year-old from Anaheim, California. “She is like me”.

Khan is the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to headline her own television show. “Millisecond. Marvel,” which launched on Disney Plus on June 8, has struck a chord with South Asian Muslims in the West because of its identification and how it portrays Muslim families. Advocates for inclusion and Representation hope the show will open the door to more nuanced on-screen portrayals of Muslims and their rich diversity.

The show tells the story of Khan, played by Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani, who gains her powers from a magical bracelet that allows her to walk on air and conjure up glowing shields of light. But she is also a South Asian Muslim teenager who goes to mosque, performs wudu or ritual ablutions before praying, sometimes wears traditional attire called shalwar kameez, dances to Bollywood numbers at her brother’s wedding, and breaks curfew. to hang out with his friend Bruno. Carrelli at AvengerCon.

The final episode of the series is expected to drop on Wednesday.

Munir Zamir, who is British Pakistani and grew up in East London, said that seeing a “brown Pakistani Muslim girl from New Jersey” in the comics and now seeing “Ms. Marvel” with her teenage children, he has been powerful. Zamir, 50, has been a Marvel fan since he was 7 and has followed the evolution of Kamala Khan since the start of Ms. Marvel in the comics in 2014.

“For Muslims in particular, representation matters a lot because, for many years, misrepresentation has mattered too much,” he said.

Zamir points out that there are other Muslim superheroes in the Marvel universe like Sooraya Qadir, also known as Dust. She wears a loose black outfit, she covers her hair and face and can transform her body into a cloud of dust.

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

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

The study found that women were particularly underrepresented, with only 23.6% of Muslim characters in these films being women. Conducted by the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, with the support of others, also found that 90.5% of these films did not feature Muslim-speaking characters, and yet 39% of Muslim characters “primary and secondary” were perpetrators of violence.

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

“She is not put on a pedestal,” he said. “She is awkward. She is funny. She is a sweet person who ultimately wants to make it better.”

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

That idea of ​​normality resonated with Hiba Bhatty, a Pakistani American fan of the show. She especially liked how Khan’s father, Yusuf, was portrayed as “a loving father”, rather than a frightening stereotype.

Bhatty, a Los Angeles-based architect, previously displayed Ms. Marvel comics on her desk at work to spark conversations. Now, she’s getting ready to give her co-workers a “Mrs. Marvel Presentation”. For her, she exemplifies how many in her community have gone beyond wanting to be portrayed as “normal Americans” to telling her own nuanced stories.

“Millisecond. Marvel” is also “reclaiming language that has been weaponized against Muslims,” ​​said Arij Mikati, managing director of cultural change at the Pillars Fund, which supports Muslim civic leaders and artists.

In one scene, Khan and his family gleefully sing “Allahu akbar” or “God is great” to celebrate his brother’s wedding.

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

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

“A superhero story is not a genre where you expect a Muslim to be, and I love that this story is changing that,” Mikati said.

The show tackles topics ranging from the policing of mosques to what it means for some to wear headscarves. Khan’s friend, hijab Nakia Bahadir, is played by Yasmeen Fletcher. One of the most important conversations between Khan and Bahadir occurs in the girls’ bathroom, where Bahadir talks about how she feels herself, with a purpose, when she puts on the hijab.

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

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

Fletcher said she has been moved by such powerful responses.

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

For the show’s seven writers, four of whom are Pakistani, depicting Muslims and South Asians realistically was crucial, said the show’s lead 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 experience of nearly 2 billion Muslims, Ali said the writers were inclined to tell the story of this family in an authentic way.

The show takes a similar approach to talk about Partition in 1947, when British India was divided on religious grounds into India and Pakistan, triggering one of the largest mass migrations in history. The violence of Hindu-Muslim tensions led to a refugee crisis, which the show weaves as part of Khan’s family history.

Ali said the show’s goal was not to point fingers in any direction, but rather to tell a family’s story of the intergenerational trauma triggered by this chapter in history and convey “a sense of empathy for the amount of pain everywhere.” “.

Ali described the mood in the writer’s room as “incredibly emotional”, as they discussed what their mosques were like growing up and contacted relatives on WhatsApp to gather more details.

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


Fam reported from Winter Park, Florida.


Associated Press religious coverage is supported through Associated Press’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. Associated Press is solely responsible for this content.

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