Ms. Marvel's creative team is what makes it special
The Ms. Marvel series on Disney+, which centres around Marvel’s first on-screen Muslim superhero Kamala Khan, is a standout for media representation.
Muslim fans have been expressing their appreciation and excitement on social media for being acknowledged through the show’s main character.
Despite some complaints about changes to characters and superpowers, the general consensus from fans and critics is that Ms. Marvel should mark a dramatic shift for the future of Muslims in popular media.
The star of the show, Iman Vellani, believes the show “…is honestly gonna inspire a lot of people to tell their stories, because – you know, this is just the start of Muslim representation.”
"The writing for the series brings Kamala’s family and community network to life with recognisable qualities that Muslim viewers could easily identify from their own experiences"
What makes this series feel so authentic is not just the on-screen representation but the folks behind the camera.
Ms. Marvel put together a team of writers, directors, as well as visual and musical artists who come from Muslim communities and cultures.
This constellation of creatives is what really enriches the programme because they draw from their own lived experiences within these communities in order to tell genuine and engaging Muslim stories.
Part of the success of Ms. Marvel is due to its rich source material.
The comic book series was co-created by Muslim American writer G. Willow Wilson and Marvel editor and Pakistani-American Sana Amanat in 2014.
Kamala Khan’s life mirrors Sana’s own formative years growing up as a Muslim in New Jersey and Wilson narrated the diversity of Muslim Americans by highlighting the many social, theological, racial, and cultural differences across the community throughout the print series.
For the screen adaptation, Sana played an integral role as executive producer and continued this truthful feel with the help of several writers from Muslim backgrounds.
Showrunner Bisha K. Ali, as well writers Sabir Pirzada, Aisha Bhoori, and Fatimah Asghar, combined their previous industry success with their own familiarity with South Asian diasporic life to create honest dialogue and sprightly family banter that is peppered with Urdu phrases and Islamic expressions.
The writing for the series brings Kamala’s family and community network to life with recognisable qualities that Muslim viewers could easily identify from their own experiences.
Another key ingredient for creating an authentic sense of space is the visual and material depth of Ms. Marvel.
The production uses South Asian arts to wrap the characters in clothing and visuals that reflect long traditions of dress and decoration.
Respected costume designer Arjun Bhasin helped support Kamala’s wrestling with her identity by including prints that reflect her cultural heritage.
Bhasin is established in both Bollywood and Hollywood and took great care to layer Kamala’s passion for Marvel with her growing enthusiasm for her South Asian background.
The individual articulation of diaspora attire is accompanied by a beautiful stage design created by set decorator Karuna Karmarkar that incorporates Islamic and South Asian ornamentation throughout the Khan home.
These sartorial and decorative elements build texture to Kamala’s world in ways that echo the everyday spaces of many Muslim viewers.
"Music in the programme amplifies the larger themes of struggling to uncover one’s identity as a minoritised individual while also creating meaningful space as part of a significant transnational community"
The sonic landscape of Ms. Marvel also helps to build the social and psychological world of Kamala Khan. The musical terrain includes both old and new, traditional and popular music that reflects her dynamic self-identity and her positionality within a transitional community.
A classic Pakistani soundtrack of songs like Ahmed Rushdi’s Ko Ko Korina and Nahid Akhtar’s I Love You are accompanied by recent hits such as Peechay Hutt out of the famous Coke Studio and Sage by Indian artist Ritviz.
Much of Ms. Marvel’s soundscape is infused with Muslim and South Asian artists from the diaspora, who blend tones, languages, and themes that touch their multiple identities.
British artist Riz Ahmed, and his outfit the Swet Shop Boys, narrate Kamala’s positionality as a South Asian Muslim in New Jersey with a keen understanding of what that means. The track Deal With It pushes back against pressures to assimilate to the dominant culture while Anthem laments how success can be unfairly gauged if you're a minoritised person.
Altogether, music in the programme amplifies the larger themes of struggling to uncover one’s identity as a minoritised individual while also creating meaningful space as part of a significant transnational community.
All of these production strands are skillfully brought together by a team of directors who have years of experience representing Muslims and South Asians on screen in nuanced and diverse ways.
They’ve put their compositional expertise to use while leaning into the cultural proficiency of these communities. The team includes collaborators Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Meera Menon, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, each directing two instalments for the six-episode series.
Adil and Bilall are Belgians of Moroccan heritage who are known for their highly stylised feature films, especially Black (2015) and Gangsta (2018), which featured the everyday lives of Moroccans in Brussels.
While these films don’t tackle Islam in meaningful ways their latest film, Rebel (2022), explores the dynamics of Muslim identity and how religion can be deployed for both good and bad.
Meera Menon is a Jersey-born Indian American whose directorial debut, Farah Goes Bang (2013), centres on the life of South Asian women, and she has been busy directing television for the past five years.
Two times Oscar winner, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a highly awarded Pakistani director whose documentary work has long focused on the lives of Muslim women.
Together these directors have been successful in telling their own stories that often represent the communities they belong to with sensitive attention to detail. Marvel has done a wonderful job of gathering a team that will treat Ms. Marvel with great care and produce a cinematic environment that reflects the lived experiences of those it represents.
Muslim storytellers are envisioning new powerful narratives about their lives and paving the way for future media makers.
This is the path to dismantling the long history of stereotypical portrayals of Muslims and the general cultural invisibility of the community.
Ms. Marvel’s creative team is able to tell the story of Kamala Khan with originality and truth.
They accomplish this so successfully by moving beyond simply visual diversity and cast inclusion and moving towards a creative team of community members behind the scenes.
In the end representation of Muslims on screen is important but it also matters who is in the room to tell the story.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. He specialises in two main areas of research: the development of Islam in China and Muslims in cinema.
Follow him on Twitter: @BabaKristian