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Iman Vellani on why ‘Ms Marvel’ is a game-changer for Muslim and South Asian creatives in the industry

Iman Vellani as Ms Marvel/Kamala Khan and Matthew Lintz as Bruno in Marvel Studios’ ‘Ms Marvel’, exclusively on Disney+. Picture: Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Iman Vellani as Ms Marvel/Kamala Khan and Matthew Lintz as Bruno in Marvel Studios’ ‘Ms Marvel’, exclusively on Disney+. Picture: Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Published Jun 19, 2022


In some ways, “Ms Marvel” is a game-changer offering à la Marvel’s “Black Panther” film franchise.

After coming under fire for its lack of representation, Hollywood is coming to the party and these offerings are indicative of this change.

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Iman Vellani as Ms Marvel/Kamala Khan and Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba in Marvel Studios' ‘Ms Marvel’. Picture: Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

By casting Pakistani-Canadian newcomer Iman Vellani as the superhero in the coming-of-age Disney+ series, the creators have shifted the negative narrative around Muslims, who are synonymous with playing terrorists, tyrants or traitors.

This project marks the 19-year-old actress’s foray into the industry. In fact, she bagged the role on her last day of high school.

At a recent media press junket, she said: “It’s crazy. Huge Marvel fan growing up. I read all the marvel comics in high school and my aunt was part of some random brown people group chat and they forwarded this casting call.

“She sent it to me as the year prior I had dressed up as Ms Marvel for Halloween and everyone was well aware of my obsession. And I was like, ‘Okay, I will do it’, and then it happened.

“I got cast on my last day of high school, which was the perfect graduation present. So yeah, it’s very surreal.”

That she was a die-hard Ms Marvel fan made it easy to slip into the role.

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She laughed: “Well, I do think the parallels between Kamala (Khan) and I are insane. Me getting the part and Kamala getting her powers kind of go hand in hand.

“It was honestly super easy for me to flip into her shoes because I was playing myself and just imagining that I had superpowers.”

On the series being a big deal, Vellani added: “It is the first of a lot of things. And to be a part of that. You know we are making history and it is very cool. Honestly, I can’t think about it too much because there is so much pressure that comes with all of that. I’m just taking it day by day …

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“I do hope this show opens more doors for more Muslim and South Asian creatives to kind of tell their story because this is just one story about one girl and one family. So we cannot represent everyone and, hopefully, it inspires for more people to contribute and tell their stories.”

The series centres on Kamala, a 16-year-old fangirl of the Avengers, particularly Carol Danvers/ Captain Marvel, who struggles to fit in until she gains her own powers.

At home, she finds herself suffocated by traditions and patriarchy that allow little wiggle room for a young woman to be free to do as she pleases.

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Vellani said “We are seeing a side of the MC (Marvel Comic) universe we have never seen before. You know, what does the MC universe look like through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl who just pines for that superhero life and wants to be one so badly? And is obsessed with the Avengers, like we are in real life?

“That was obviously really fun for all of us as well. The show is like a love letter to MC fans and appreciating all the hard work that they have done and encouraging them to do more.”

Iman Vellani as Ms Marvel/Kamala Khan and Matthew Lintz as Bruno in Marvel Studios’ ‘Ms Marvel’, exclusively on Disney+. Picture: Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

As much as this series lends a voice to young Muslim women, the universal themes resonate with a wider audience.

She explained: “They need to. Just be proud of who they are and where they come from. I know that was really hard for me. I felt very disconnected from my Pakistani roots growing up and then this show introduced me to so many wonderful South Asian people who were talented and creative in a job that I would like to do some day.

“And, yeah, it was really inspiring for me too and I hope that people take that away from this show.”

As for the kind of prep that was involved for her to do justice to the role, she chuckled: “Yeah, I did need to build my stamina a little bit. I was a high school living off Oreos and McDonalds, there needed to be some changes there.

“It was basically just getting your endurance up. The stunts, doing them repetitively for 10 to 14 hours.”

She admitted: “I hope the show will resonate on a special level because we are showing Muslims on screen and people that haven’t been shown in a positive light.

“And I hope that there is someone or something that they relate to, whether it’s Kamala or her friends or family or someone in her community. I just want Marvel fans to appreciate it.”

Like her character, Vellani is still figuring things out.

“I don’t think we need to have it figured out. I suppose keep living and keep being passionate about things. That is how I hope to live. I hope that everything that I’m a part of is something I am passionate about and to put my whole heart into it and work with some cool people.”

Shows portraying Muslims in a favourable light, like “Ramy”, are few and far between, and Vellani agreed: “100%, we are definitely going to shift that perspective on how we see Muslims in mainstream media.

“Having included characters like Kamala in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), which is such an accessible and successful franchise all over the world, is going to open so many doors and so many people are going to be able to put themselves in Kamala’s shoes and be seen and be less lonely in this world.”

Right now, though, Vellani is “barely processing” her big break. But she is excited to see her family, who are so far removed from the film industry, see her on the screen.

“Ms Marvel” is currently streaming on Disney+.