In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite superheroes: Kamala Khan a.k.a Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani-American Muslim teenage superhero.
Ms. Marvel was introduced as a character in the Marvel comics in Captain Marvel’s comics series in 2013. It was then announced that she would headline her own comic series, which began in 2014. The character is also getting her own Disney+ series, which was announced in September, which will bring her on screen as well.
The first time I saw myself in a character was when I read Ms. Marvel. She felt so familiar. While I myself am an Indian-American Muslim, I intimately understood her experiences. She struggled with finding her place in the world just like I did. Far too often, Muslim characters on screen and in media in general are portrayed through negative stereotypes: the extreme terrorist, the oppressed, the extreme anti-terrorist. But Ms. Marvel was the first time I saw a stereotype-free, and very familiar Muslim character and community.
The comics follow Kamala and how she grows into her role in the world as a superhero. She hails from Jersey City, New Jersey and suddenly is gifted with the power to will her body to become whatever size and shape she wants it to be. So she becomes her idol, Captain Marvel (who was previously Ms. Marvel), who has blond hair and blue eyes and white skin. She rescues a girl from drowning, but as someone else, not herself.
She struggles so much with fitting in that she decides to become someone else entirely. This was a scene that resonated with me particularly because I have also fought the urge to try and make myself fit into a particular box that will make others more comfortable. I was always too American or too Indian wherever I was, and it took me a very long time to find my way out of the boxes that were provided and just be me.
Kamala eventually accepts that she can be the hero, and chooses to help people as herself, rather than her idol. She finds a way to be herself, and be proud.
Kamala continues to go back and forth between wanting to fit in, and being comfortable being different, like we all do. She is human, and she is not always perfect. But that’s what makes her so wonderful.
She struggled with being in between two different cultures and languages like I did. I found she went through many of the problems I did, and she made me see my life in a different way. Seeing her made me want to write. I wanted people to see themselves the way I did, and now here I am.
Kamala is not ashamed of her heritage or her religion, but she is finding her place in the world just like we all are. She goes to her local mosque to pray, attends big family gatherings, speaks Urdu and English, all along with saving the world. She is one of my favorite superheroes because she is so much like me, and encourages us all to be better.
I have always loved science fiction and fantasy books. I would love to escape into those worlds where the heroes always find a way, and good always prevails. They travel to new worlds, discover new parts of themselves, and live in worlds of magic and monsters. I was content to continue reading and watching their adventures, and all their fantastical feats.
But I didn’t know what I was missing until I found Ms. Marvel. I gasped in recognition and laughed out loud so many times while reading her story, because I felt connected to her, in a way I had never felt with any other heroes.
In a world where there are so few positive and accurate representations of us as Muslims, South Asians, or as children of immigrants, Ms. Marvel was a very welcome addition.
I will be watching her upcoming series with my sisters, so that they can see themselves as heroes too.
(Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)