A supersized round of applause is in order for Hollywood newcomer Iman Vellani, who has been cast as the MCU’s Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel – and also for the character of Kamala Khan herself, a teen Muslim superheroine whose journey from comic-books to video games to Disney+ and MCU stardom has all occurred in a remarkably short amount of time. Vellani, who will take on the starring role in the upcoming Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, is about to fill the shoes of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic recent characters, and I could not be happier for her. She already has an incredible amount of support from the fandom, and I think we’ll all be excited to see her don Kamala Khan’s costume for the first time.
Because Vellani is completely new to the scene, it’s hard to say much about the casting itself and there are very few details about her to be found. Rest assured, she’ll soon become one of the faces of the MCU moving forward, so before long we’ll know more about her: for now, let’s just make sure we all give her the support she needs heading into this big responsibility. In the meantime, let’s talk a bit about Kamala Khan, the character Vellani will be playing, and why she has resonated so much with the Muslim-American and South Asian-American communities, ever since G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona brought her to life in 2013.
For the most part, Kamala has been written fairly consistently in the pages of Marvel comics. She is a Desi, Pakistani-American Muslim girl and Jersey City citizen, whose powers are revealed to be of Inhuman origin (for those who need a refresher, Inhumans are a group of characters in the Marvel Universe whose powers are unlocked, so to speak, when they are exposed to the Terrigen mist: they’re a bit like Mutants, but not as well known to general audiences – yet). Kamala’s specific powers give her shapeshifting abilities and incredible elasticity: she’s super-stretchy, but in a unique way, where she’s able to redistribute the atoms in her body to form giant hands or feet capable of powerful punches/kicks. They’re bizarre powers, for sure, but visually spectacular – and the recent Avengers PS4 video game, which stars Kamala, showed that her giant fists and stretchy limbs can also make for some exciting action. In the game, Kamala uses her powers to swing across rooftops, and sometimes even grow in size. This is all going to be very interesting to see in Ms. Marvel. It is unclear at the moment if Kamala’s Inhuman origins will be retained: it seems likely to me, but it’s theoretically plausible that Marvel will make her a Mutant or have her obtain her powers in a completely different way altogether.
Kamala’s Ms. Marvel has little to do with the original Ms. Marvel – the moniker worn by Carol Danvers before she was promoted to Captain Marvel – but Kamala is inspired by Carol and by other superheroes as well. The Avengers video game made a mistake by focusing almost exclusively on Kamala as a fangirl and not giving her any personal life beyond that, but there’s no denying that Kamala is a fangirl: meeting her in the MCU will finally allow us a chance to see what some of the general public think of superheroes, and how they’re marketed to the world. Do they have action figures and Funko Pops? Is Kamala part of online fan communities that discuss the Avengers and other heroes? Is there a superhero equivalent of “stan Twitter” within the MCU, and is Kamala a part of it? The possibilities for quirky meta humor (and marketing tie-ins) are endless.
That being said, Ms. Marvel should make Kamala’s family and faith equally as important to the heroine as her love of superheroes, if not more so. In the comics, Kamala struggles on a daily basis as she tries to reconcile her own hopes and dreams with the wishes of her religious, conservative family, and with her Islamic faith in general – but she also loves her family deeply, and finds comfort at her neighborhood mosque. She’s a complex character who’s busy learning how to define herself within the context of her religion, and it’s amazing that we’ll get to see this conflict play out onscreen. It’s also extremely important, not just because of how crucial this is to Kamala’s character, but because of how relevant this same struggle is for so many people around the globe. Few superheroes have even so much as mentioned religion thus far, over twenty films into the MCU’s lifetime, and fewer still seem to actually practice religion or engage in religious communities. Steve Rogers is the closest we’ve really ever gotten, and, well, he’s mostly just Protestant Christian by default, because of course he is. There’s never really been much thought put into it: if anything, it’s used as a joke to underscore how he’s the 1940’s ideal of an all-around perfect guy. And yeah, that’s problematic in and of itself. But Kamala Khan represents a much more nuanced depiction of a religious individual, one that we desperately need to balance out those past mistakes and give people a role model that they can turn to when dealing with their issues of faith.
As for when she’s actually out fighting crime, Ms. Marvel is most frequently working on her own, although she has teamed up with her role model Captain Marvel several times, and it looks likely she’ll do so again in the MCU – possibly in Ms. Marvel, if Brie Larson can be convinced to film a Disney+ cameo, or possibly in Captain Marvel 2, when Kamala makes the jump from streaming to the big screen. It’s my hope, however, that one of Kamala’s guiding influences as a heroine in the MCU will be the Inhuman Quake (played by Chloe Bennet, of course). A long shot? Maybe, but I’m not ruling it out. Kamala and Quake have interacted before in the comics, and with Quake having been established as Inhuman in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second season, it makes sense to use her to explain the whole thing to general audiences still unfamiliar with the concept. But whether she gets a partner or not, it’s been rumored that Kamala’s first antagonist will be The Inventor, a half-human, half-bird clone of Thomas Edison (and yes, I am aware of how strange that description sounds).
In short, there are no downsides to this news. Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel, is joining the MCU, becoming the first Muslim superhero to headline her own series – just as she was the first Muslim superhero to headline her own comic series. On both fronts, it’s a landmark achievement. Iman Vellani will do an amazing job, and she has our support and genuine admiration as she starts on this journey of a lifetime. And the Muslim-American community…well, I can’t even begin to imagine the impact that this will surely have on members of the community, who will finally see themselves reflected positively in a genre that has all too often depicted them in a negative light, or not at all. Yes, the MCU themselves have done this in the recent past. It’s no use trying to deny it, or ignore it: it’s time to properly address it, and make it right, with smart actions such as this authentic casting choice. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – Representation Matters.
So what are your thoughts on Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel? Are you excited for the series? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!