Despite the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series only just beginning filming in Atlanta over the past few weeks, a sizzle reel compiled from behind-the-scenes interviews with the series’ creators and clips of new footage from the show was already completed in time for the Disney Investors Meeting on Thursday night, and gave us our first official look at newcomer Iman Vellani as the MCU’s first Muslim superhero, Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Khan. It’s not much, but it’s worth a shoutout because of the representation showcased in the sizzle reel itself, and the promise made by Marvel President Kevin Feige that Kamala Khan (a.k.a. Ms Marvel) will go on to costar in future Marvel films.
The brief video spotlights each of the four main directors working on Ms. Marvel, including Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, Meera Menon, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. All are experienced filmmakers, and El Arbi and Fallah directed one of the highest-grossing films of this year, Bad Boys For Life: a gritty, action-packed adventure. Kamala Khan is a superheroine with a very distinctive superpower – the ability to redistribute the atoms in her body at will, to change her shape and size, create giant fists, or grow to incredible heights – so I hope all four directors will be able to carry that over from page to screen in a cool way, while keeping it wonderfully weird. Kamala Khan’s creator, G. Willow Wilson, has said she fears Khan will look “really creepy” in live-action because of her powers, but I have faith in Marvel to do her justice.
While the diversity behind the camera (where it matters most, arguably) is excellent, there’s been some recent controversy around the diversity onscreen…or rather, the lack thereof. A few days, #FixMsMarvel trended on Twitter, after it was discovered that two actresses cast in the series as Muslim women of color, Zenobia Shroff and Yasmeen Fletcher, are not Muslim (and Fletcher is half-white and Christian); that actor Matt Lintz, cast as Kamala Khan’s best friend Bruno, is possibly a Trump supporter (although he claimed later he is not political, which itself is a questionable stance, especially during these times); and that a sexual offender was reportedly cast in another supporting role. That last claim is certainly severe, but the actor in question is not confirmed to have joined the cast, unlike Shroff, Fletcher, and Lintz, all of whose names can currently be found on the Marvel website. For a series that is so laser-focused on improving representation of a traditionally marginalized demographic, these castings do represent missteps – and the MCU’s casting director, Sarah Halley Finn, is no stranger to casting controversy, having previously received criticism for picking a Mexican actress, Xochitl Gomez, as the (arguably) Afro-Latina Puerto Rican heroine America Chavez; and (allegedly) Oscar Isaac, a born-and-raised Evangelical Christian, as Jewish hero Matt Spector.
How you choose to digest this information and proceed is your own choice, and reactions to the news will vary. It’s especially disappointing, however, because of how perfectly cast Iman Vellani appears as Kamala Khan: and how excited I think we all are for her to succeed. Vellani doesn’t appear in her Ms. Marvel costume in the new footage, but she’s still channeling her in-universe role model, Captain Marvel – as we can see her purchasing the Captain Marvel costume she wore in behind-the-scenes photos (where I thought she was being played by a child actor: my apologies to Vellani); wearing a T-shirt that seems to hint at a Captain Marvel/Valkyrie romantic pairing (which, if that’s the case, I wholeheartedly support); and staring wistfully at the Captain Marvel posters and memorabilia that adorn her bedroom wall. Heartwarming footage was also shown of Vellani’s freak-out reaction to her casting.
I can understand freaking out, because Marvel president Kevin Feige made it very clear that Ms. Marvel isn’t a one-and-done character: she will soon join Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris in a lead role in Captain Marvel 2, fulfilling her fangirl dreams and allowing her a chance to punch bad guys with her supersized fists on the big screen where she belongs. Much was made out of Vellani’s two-star review for the first Captain Marvel review on her alleged Letterboxd account (which, she clarified, was not because of Brie Larson, whom she “would die for”) – hopefully, her appearance in the Nia DaCosta-directed sequel will make it even better than the first. Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel may also help introduce the Inhumans royal family to the MCU, as a possible reference to Maximus the Mad hidden in the new footage hints that they’re on their way.
The Inhumans were the subject of a short-lived ABC TV series, but they haven’t ever really caught on with audiences, except on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was helped by exceptional writing and great character work. For the Inhumans’ MCU debut, I think Marvel would be foolish not to borrow from the best and transfer popular Inhuman S.H.I.E.L.D. characters like Daisy Johnson and Yo-Yo Rodriguez over to the Disney+ series, with actresses Chloe Bennet and Natalia Cordova-Buckley reprising their roles. We already have confirmation that another Inhuman from the comics, the bioluminescent Kamran, will appear and be played by Rish Shah: the stage is set for more to follow.
So what do you think? How do you feel about Ms. Marvel, and how would you deal with the controversies around casting? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!