MS. Marvel is the superhero Muslim girls have been waiting for

Growing up as a brown Muslim girl in America, it was a challenge to identify with any female character on the big screen – first of all, none of them looked like me. Disney released a year after I was born Aladdinand because of her skin color and oriental-sounding name, Princess Jasmine automatically became the Disney heroine of choice for many young girls like me.

However, Princess Jasmine was hardly a heroine. She was a supporting character, not a lead, seemingly depressed by her life in the palace and having to be shown “a whole new world” by a man. Not to mention that she was heavily orientalized; one of the few Disney princesses to be pictured in a harem-inspired skinless costume rather than an elegant gown.

I remember trying to accessorize a teal shalwar kameez while dressing up as Princess Jasmine for Halloween. A few years later I bought a Pink Power Ranger costume. The ’90s clearly lacked popular and relatable female characters who didn’t live up to cultural or gender stereotypes.

Now, 30 years after Disney’s Princess Jasmine debuted, we’re witnessing the birth of a new female character – one who’s uncompromisingly brown, Muslim, and possessed of majestic superpowers. MS. miracle, A Marvel Studios Original Series is streaming on Disney+ this June and its main character is Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani teenager living in New Jersey who gains the miraculous ability to harness cosmic energy.

The trailer, released yesterday, gives a little glimpse into the world of this American Muslim teenage girl as she navigates her way through high school life. In less than two minutes, viewers witness Kamala’s name being mispronounced, her personal style critiqued, a congregational prayer in the mosque and a split-second Bollywood dance sequence. This is a girl who has a crush on boys and daydreams, but also dreams of a bigger life as she discovers her true identity. “It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who are saving the world,” she observes, voicing the insecurities of impostor syndrome that are all too common among women of color in real life.

Not only the makers of MS. miracle threw a brown face into the role of female superhero, but they recruited Iman Vellani, a young Pakistani-Canadian Muslim woman who bore many similarities to her on-screen character. The series was created by British-Muslim screenwriter Bisha K Ali and has Emmy-winning actress, Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as one of the directors.

More exciting to me is the prospect of introducing my own daughter to the mainstream media, which portrays Muslim women in a positive, let alone strong, light

Muslims have long awaited a more authentic portrayal like this in Hollywood, where our cultures are given the nuance and layer they deserve and our characters are played by real members of our communities. During shows like The bold have created fictional Muslim women with more complexity, MS. miracle seems like a more balanced and relatable role for younger audiences.

More exciting to me is the prospect of introducing my own daughter to the mainstream media, which portrays Muslim women in a positive, let alone strong, light. For when it comes to the initially rare inclusion of Muslim women on screen, the result is typically one of two extremes – dehumanized terrorists and fundamentalists, or ultra-liberals who might even abandon their faith altogether.

But filmmakers and television directors are now responding to calls for more diversity and better representation, thanks in large part to those of color in the industry who understand the need for more depth and rigor in representing brown communities. Just last year, Mindy Kaling and Amazon Studios announced they were adapting Hana Khan carries on, a romantic comedy by Muslim writer Uzma Jalaluddin, adapted for film. And as the literary world is awash with outstanding Muslim fiction novels aimed at young adult readers, the industry is ripe for more stories to translate from paper to screen.

The movement is certainly gaining momentum in the higher echelons of Hollywood. Last summer, Oscar-nominated Muslim actor Riz Ahmed launched the New Muslim Media Representative Initiative to help correct what he called “the problem of on-screen misrepresentation of Muslims.”

Although it is still too early to understand how thoroughly MS. miracle While addressing and combating anti-Islamic stereotypes throughout the series, it’s safe to say that this “whole new world” offers Muslim women far more magic than the very limited typifications we’ve been limited to from previous film and television productions.

Updated March 16, 2022 11:53 am

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