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Pakistani Culture First, Superheroism Second – ‘Ms. Marvel’ (TV Review)

3 min read

The MCU is in a true re-coming-of-age moment currently. There's a clear pantheon of the next decade of Marvel's superheroic roster forming with the likes of Hailee Steinfeld's Kate Bishop, Oscar Isaac's Moon Knight, and Simu Liu's Shang-Chi. For many people however, the arrival of the latest caped crusader is a true landmark in not only the cinematic universe's history, but comic book history as a whole: , their first-ever Muslim superhero, Kalama Khan (played by ). The phrase ‘ground-breaking' is bandied around often, but this Disney+ show provides the chance for one of the biggest studios in the world to spotlight South Asia not just in front of the camera, but behind it too. So, does Ms. Marvel's live-action debut honour her legacy?

Ms. Marvel feels much richer in humanity than its televisual predecessors, largely due to the personal perspective of the show from Kamala's perspective – it truly does feel as though Kamala has created this herself, telling her own story to us. This is often communicated through direct voiceover, animated cutesy drawings and scribbled notes decorating the screen to provide us with a direct line to Kamala's inner thoughts. It's clear the show is looking to tap into the well-refined structure of the coming-of-age structure, composing a silky, clever filmmaking style that matches its protagonist in tone and style – vibrant, kinetic and ever-so-slightly quirky.

The show certainly places Pakistani culture first, superheroism second as we become immersed in Kamala's day-to-day, travelling from prayer at the Mosque to the hunger-inducing Eid Mubarak festival, complete with Pakistan's own version of the Illuminati (you'll see what we mean.) What's most laudable about Ms. Marvel's strides for South Asian representation is that not only does it feel innately natural, but it compels you with a desire to know more. During Ms. Marvel's press conference, Saagar Shaikh who plays Kamala's brother notes that “being South Asian, we all have a code that we just ‘get' – we already knew each other, in a way, when we met”, and that universality extends to those watching. Kamala's family glow with a rich cultural and personal history between one another that feels more authentic than many of the relationships we've seen in the MCU. Zenobia Shroff's fierce yet loving Muneeba Khan exemplifies a lifelike prototype of the South Asian mother that feel almost embarrassingly relatable to many; likewise, Mohan Kapur's Yusuf Khan is the bumbling sweetheart father that tries to connect with his daughter, even if he doesn't fully understand her.

Given that Ms. Marvel dedicates itself to the coming-of-age structure, some may find the familiarity of the show's beats to be a little formulaic – there's boy trouble, desires to be taken seriously, and of course, struggling with changes – but Iman Vellani's performance is what holds your attention with such delightful charm that such familiarity melts away. Vellani's own fanaticism shines through in her portrayal of Kamala, because in a way, she's been studying the role for years. Likewise, Kamala's relationship with Yasmeen Fletcher's Nakia is sweet to watch unfold in live-action, particularly with how the two push each other to become pinnacles of their community, maintaining that strong core of human friendship and bondage integral to the humanity of the show.

It does take a while to understand where Ms. Marvel is going exactly – the first sign of conflict only begins to seep in toward episode two's conclusion – but considering the rapid narrative scaffolding of Moon Knight and Hawkeye, giving us time to just exist in these characters' worlds and understand them isn't such a bad thing. Ms. Marvel feels the closest-to-ground level we've had in the MCU for a long time, and it does feel refreshing – so far, there's no world-ending plots, or inter-dimensional beasts threatening the Earth; the only life-threatening issue is the troublesome social ladder of high school. Though, to anyone during that age, that is a life-or-death situation.