When the trailer for Marvel’s latest video game, “Avengers: A-Day” (2020) was released, it created quite a stir among the fan communities throughout the world. The trailer gave us our first glimpse of Kamala Khan, or Ms. Marvel, as she is known in the Marvel Universe, not just as an ancillary character – but one who is the main binding force in the story playing the central role.
When first introduced in 2013 by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie, the character of Kamala was praised because of her diverse identity as she was the first Muslim character to headline her own book. A young Muslim girl of Pakistani descent who suddenly gains superpowers while trying to navigate life as an ordinary teenager in Jersey – Kamala’s story was and continues to be relatable to all young and old comic book readers who have multiple identities. Kamala’s costume was also revolutionary in its own sense – because it accommodated a special headscarf (though she mostly ties it around her neck).
While Kamala Khan has starred in animated cartoons and has been a playable character in numerous videogames, “Avengers: A-Day” is different because she plays the central role here. In the videogame, Kamala is initially a huge fan girl who wins a chance to meet the Avengers as they celebrate their latest victory because of a fan fiction she wrote that won a prize. However, things go awry at the celebration and Captain America is killed and the blame falls on the earth’s mightiest superheroes – who then disband and go their own separate ways. Although Kamala gets away unharmed, she also gains powers and becomes an Inhuman. She then sets out on a journey to understand more about herself and solve Captain’s murder and meets Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark.
The video game allows the players to play in the character of Kamala and use her extraordinary, albeit quirky, skills to go through missions and bring the Avengers together along with saving the mystery of Captain’s murder.
She also fights villains with her very own special superpowers, the ability to increase the size of her hands or feet once she shouts “Embiggen!” Funnily enough, “embiggen” was a word first used in the Simpsons that Kamala later adapts for her own powers. Due to her usage, in 2016, Merriam Webster added this word to their lexicon – proving how much of a cultural impact Ms. Marvel’s character has had on the lives of a daily average comic book reader. The video game allows the players to play in the character of Kamala and use her extraordinary, albeit quirky, skills to go through missions and bring the Avengers together along with saving the mystery of Captain’s murder.
In the comics, Kamala chooses to use the name ‘Ms. Marvel’ because she is inspired by Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. With Brie Larson’s portrayal of Captain Marvel gaining approval, she has also been pushing for an All-Female Marvel movie, which also includes Kamala in a big screen.
As a part of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest attempts to bring about gender equality in their representation of superheroes, they have also focused on creating more content with women in the lead role. Famous Hollywood celebrities like Mindy Kaling and Riz Ahmed have also shown interest in the “Ms. Marvel” project and have been in talks to bring it to light while doing full justice to the portrayal of a character like this and as sensitively as possible. Recently, Disney announced that they would be starting a live-action show called “Ms. Marvel” based on Kamala Khan’s day to day adventures. While the cast of the show has not been revealed yet, fans eagerly await to see one of their most favorite heroes on screen. Hasan Minhaj is reportedly going to contribute to the writing of Ms. Marvel’s 50th issue.
People of different, diverse communities rally every day for more representation in popular, mainstream media which mostly focuses on cisgender-heterosexual people and almost fully Caucasian in USA. To make matters worse, appropriation of identities (Emma Stone playing a woman of Hawaiian descent, Scarlett Johansson playing an ethnically Japanese character) by the dominant group helps in erasing out the minority communities as well as their voices. Their stories are already written by writers from the majority community with their own prejudices and biases that automatically fails to convey the truth. When the portrayal of these characters are also slowly white-washed, these minority communities are left with no avenues to represent themselves and assert their own space in popular consciousness.
As a part of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest attempts to bring about gender equality in their representation of superheroes, they have also focused on creating more content with women in the lead role.
According to Aqib Khan, a third year student of English, “mainstream media has a lot of power when it comes to influence people and depicting society even in a fictional world so a representation of not just any woman but one of colour in a mainstream platform will help people watching it understand and accept diversity.” Although he is afraid of how Hollywood would deal with her portrayal, “…she’s Pakistani American so there are certain nuances of being an immigrant, person of color, religion which they might not get. The only way to handle this correctly is to incorporate people to work on the character who could actually relate to her and understand where she’s coming from so they don’t up patronizing her or just using her a token to fill up their diversity quota.“
Yameena, a first year student of Sociology said, “As an Indian who grew up in a Muslim household Ms. Marvel’s character and Kamala Khan’s casting is a very pleasant change and not just because its going to empower young brown girls. Hollywood isn’t doing us a favour by giving the world Mrs Marvel, it’s doing itself a favour. For so long Muslims and brown people in general have been portrayed in an extremely negative manner, the west is stuck in an echo chamber of racism and bias and the media they consume is one of the main causes for that. If Marvel misrepresents the character or reproduces stereotypes through the movie it isn’t going to do our community too much harm because we have already been misrepresented for decades, it’s the norm, it’s what we’ve come to expect. Marvel needs to do better this time, not for the sake of Muslims or Pakistanis or Indians but for the sake of their children’s awareness and understanding.“
While Natasha Ahmed, a third year student of English, is worried about the reception of such a character, she likes that it breaks stereotypes. To her, “that Marvel has included a superhero who is first, a person of colour, second, a Muslim, and third, a woman, is something that is something that is remarkable, obviously. Being all three myself, I have a significant amount of understanding about how limited my scope is within the society, that imposes restrictions on everything I might wish/have to do. There’s so much oppression at the most basic, ground level, inside the domestic arrangements itself, let alone the oppression that is imposed by the society. I have been very privileged to have been brought up in a very liberal family, but people have a very particular and typical image of what a Muslim woman is going to be like, soft meek sweet under a veil won’t talk loud will abide by whatever nonsense is meted out to them.”
Kamala Khan’s introduction and inclusion thus becomes a milestone achievement for Marvel that has predominantly featured white characters and has begun adding more people of color from all backgrounds and origins to its repertoire.
In 2016, when editor Sana Amanat presented the first edition of Ms. Marvel to Barack Obama, he rightly replied, “Ms. Marvel may be your comic book creation, but I think for a lot of young boys and girls, Sana’s a real superhero.“
The words ring very true because in a world where Islamophobia runs amock, to give the mantle of a superhero to a young Muslim girl and show her for the empowering character that she is – is a win in itself.
Featured Image Source: Inverse