Bold, bright and a whole lot of fun, Marvel Studios’ latest addition to its ever-growing roster of superheroes promises audiences an introduction to remember. Taking centre stage in the MCU’s latest streaming series is newcomer Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, a young Pakistani-American teenager and Captain Marvel superfan (Supa-Fan?) who suddenly finds herself in possession of her own superhuman abilities. We were fortunate enough to be able to catch up with the team behind the MCU’s latest sure-fire hit and talk all things Ms. Marvel.
Director and executive producer Adil El Arbi (Bad Boys for Life, Batgirl), one half of the directing partnership he shares with Bilall Fallah, describes Kamala as “a teenager who happens to be a Pakistani Muslim American girl who is in that teenage period where you’re looking for yourself. You’re searching for identity”.
“She doesn’t 100% belong in the Pakistani world and even in the American world,” he says of the young heroine, something that he sees within himself and his directing partner Fallah. “So it’s a bit like us, you know, as Moroccan Belgians. As teenagers, we were like, ‘Are we Belgian? Or, are we Moroccan?’ So there’s like this kind of identity crisis which is rooted in and very interesting and personal to us, and then she has powers all of a sudden. She’s between the normal human world and the superhero world and she’s searching for herself and confused and this is really a coming-of-age story.”
No one probably has as deep a connection with the character than executive producer Sana Amanat, who drew on many of her own life experiences to help co-create the original comic character with writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona and editor Stephen Wacker. “I mean, it was incredible,” she says of the experience of having her comic character brought to life on screen. “I mean, stressful. Very, very, very stressful. Sweat and Tears,” she adds, “but it was great.”
“And I will say, you know, everyone I have worked with, the directors and the writers and obviously our cast, everyone had such a preciousness towards Kamala and love for Kamala and so it was really actually inspiring to see how they sort of helped to evolve her story and to bring her to life in really big and beautiful ways.
“I felt like we were in really good hands the whole time and, you know, I was excited and honestly overwhelmed that we’re able to do this. I feel like never in my wildest dreams in 2014 did I think we’d be here and that she.. would have a billboard in Times Square and in Hong Kong, like it’s crazy. I just hope that it’s only the beginning for her. I do think people are gonna fall in love with her… I keep kind of pinching myself. I can’t believe it.”
And who wouldn’t fall in love with Kamala? Smart, funny, and more than a little nerdy, the directorial team had plenty of influences to help hone their unique vision for the series. “Well, I mean, there were a lot of [influences],” El Arbi explains. “All the John Hughes movies. I think, you know, every high school TV show that we loved growing up like Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and Saved By the Bell and stuff like that, and maybe also more recent movies like Booksmart, Lady Bird and stuff like that. And Scott Pilgrim…”
“Spider-Man and Spider-Verse,” Fallah chimes in.
“Yeah, all that,” El Arbi agrees. “And just overall, you know, Moroccan funky flavour of fast-paced stuff with a lot of music and a lot of the other colours which are inspired by the comic books, you know, because it is so vibrant already on the page. So we tried to figure out a way how to translate that vibrancy on the screen.”
Of course, the process of translating a character from the comic book page to the television screen isn’t always a literal process, and fans of the Ms. Marvel comic will note a definite change in Kamala’s powers. Yet while her shape-shifting abilities have been replaced by the ability to create solid light constructs, much of what makes her such a unique character remains true to the source material.
“I think the big thing is that Kamala’s story is linked to other stories in the MCU,” Amanat explains. “And the comic book did the same thing. And the comic was linked to a big comic book event, which is how she got her powers. And so for us, it was incredibly important to say that this was just the beginning. There are other sort of things that are about to happen for her…
“You know, an adaptation is an adaptation for a reason. We want to kind of play with different kinds of stories. I think the entire story in the season of Ms. Marvel takes different aspects of the 50-60 issues of G. Willow Wilson’s run and makes it into something I think, very true to the comic book, but also very unique.
“And in the same way we wanted to make the powers the same, you still have sort of the embiggened fists and sort of her the powers kind of morphing her body a little bit. But ultimately, it’s a story of her identity and her learning to use her powers and manipulate her powers and sort of what that means for her place in the world and how she kind of really reclaims her identity and her space in the world.”
Vibrant and fun, Ms. Marvel not only marks a major leap forward for South Asian representation in the MCU, but does it in such a memorable way that it is bound to make Kamala Khan a fan-favourite addition to the beloved pantheon of live-action Marvel heroes.
Ms. Marvel premieres on Wednesday, 8 June exclusively on Disney+.