In case you haven't heard, the first Muslim superhero — 16 year-old Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American girl — will make her screen debut in Ms. Marvel on Disney+ tomorrow.
I love cheering for a girl who looks like me as she fights villains and rescues friends. But Ms. Marvel is for every young person finding their place in the world. As star Iman Vellani told NPR, "You don't have to have everything figured out at 16. You're not supposed to. And I think young people should hopefully be comforted by Kamala as a character and see that even a superhero doesn't have her life figured out.”
Throughout the first episodes of Ms. Marvel (yes, I got to see them early 💅), I was struck by how familiar Kamala Khan’s life seemed to me. She talks with her friends about Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, listens to Pakistani pop songs and eats chicken biryani with her family. And I suspect many Pakistani kids will see their own parents in Kamala’s genial father and strict mom.
Sana Amanat, who co-created the character for Marvel Comics, certainly does. “When I got my first job in comics, they were confused. They didn’t really understand it. My mom said, ‘Go be a lawyer.’ I remember my father telling me whatever you do, just make sure that you're helping people however way that you can.”
Like Kamala, Amanat’s parents immigrated from Pakistan and raised their family in the New Jersey suburbs. As a child, she was interested in anything her older brothers liked — Star Wars, Star Trek, books by C.S. Lewis and Isaac Asimov. Her favourite show was the 1990s X-Men cartoon series. “I really, really loved it. Every Saturday morning I would just watch all those cartoons.”
But Amanat didn’t see girls and women like her reflected in comics, cartoons or even at school. “You had maybe one International Day where you were encouraged to bring food from your home, and that was about it. There was no real, proper education or real interest in cultural understanding.”
Today Amanat is giving young fans what she missed as a child. “It would have obviously made a huge difference if we had content like this when we were younger. If someone feels like they're seen, it makes them feel like they're included. And if they feel included, what does that do for their sense of self, their sense of confidence, self-esteem? Not just this idea of belonging, but that they have a voice and they have a right to be here. I'm still processing the effect Ms. Marvel will have.”
Amanat joined Marvel Comics in 2009 and co-created the first comic featuring Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel in 2014. She was overwhelmed by seeing her work come to life on the TV show set. "It was really emotional. Every moment felt very crazy and surreal, like, oh my God, are we actually doing this? The day Iman came out in this Captain Marvel suit, the first time she put on a superhero costume, was the wildest day ever. How rare is it that you can create a character that has a red carpet premiere in Hollywood?"
Even her mom has come around. “She’s started going to the comic shop and picking up comics herself. A Pakistani woman in her 70s, going to a comic shop. It's just really funny.”
Want to know what Marvel characters might be coming soon? Interested in creating your own comics? Keep reading!
Ms. Marvel is the first Muslim superhero. Are there other new characters you want to bring to life?
Amanat: The Marvel Universe is so big and so vast! There are actually so many characters that already exist that I think are quite interesting and fascinating. We have a character named Red Dagger that I want to tell more stories of.
What’s your advice for young people interested in being comic book writers or screenwriters?
Amanat: Find people whose taste you trust who are able to give you constructive feedback — and also know how to get feedback. Often people are so protective of their work and they forget that you have to give it to an audience. You're not writing for yourself; you're writing for other people. Make sure that you know how to incorporate that feedback into your work. Once you get a job, you're going to start working with other people like me that are going to say, “Eh, this doesn't work for me” and I need you to be able to fix it.