British actor Rish Shah will make his debut today in the second episode of Ms. Marvel, the new series from Disney+.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the series centers on a 16-year-old girl with superpowers living in New Jersey who happens to be Pakistani-Muslim, the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Kamala Khan character debuted in 2014 in her Ms. Marvel comic book series and has since garnered critical and commercial acclaim.
The first issue is in its seventh print run and is becoming one of Marvel’s best-selling collections, according to the show’s production notes.
The six-part Disney+ series is a coming-of-age story that tackles the awkwardness of puberty, challenging your strict immigrant parents and navigating high school influencers.
Rish Shah, who plays Kamala’s love interest Kamran, makes an appearance in the second episode.
He says he can relate to the characters and hopes people will feel seen.
“I think it took me a long time to reflect and realize how cool it is to be proud of your culture,” he told ABC News.
“It took me a long time to grow up and accept that it’s cool to be Indian, Pakistani or South Asian in general.
From the moment Kamran appears on screen, Kamala is smitten. They bond over Bollywood songs and movies and Kamran offers her driving lessons.
Although Shah says Kamran is a mama’s boy, his character still comes across as a mysterious presence in the series.
The series is a huge step forward for diverse representation in the franchise.
Kamala, played by newcomer Iman Vellani, also deals with the push and pull of family culture and Western society – much like two of the show’s directors.
Adil El Arbi and Billal Farah recently teamed up to direct Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys for Life, and Farah says there’s a lot going on about the Ms. Marvel characters.
“We’re Belgian-Moroccan so we don’t really feel Belgian, we don’t really feel Moroccan, certainly when you’re 16 you try to figure out who you are,” Farah, who co-directed two episodes, says .
“Kamala Khan is between this American culture and Pakistani Islamic culture and seeing her, you know, being in high school, clumsy, not knowing who she is and trying to find a way, it was just like in high school.
In the first episode, Kamala just wants to go to Avengers-Con with her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz), which looks like Comic-Con, but the MCU version focuses on The Avengers.
She loves drawing and fanfiction about the Avengers, much to her parents’ chagrin.
“For us, it was just a lot of fun to show the different kinds of perspectives of the Muslim experience, as it is for all of us,” said executive producer and co-creator of Kamala’s character, Sana Amanat.
“We are all different and we bring a bit of ourselves to these stories.”
While the show tells a universal story of growth (while also dealing with new superpowers), it’s also a significant step forward for representation and visibility in the MCU.
There are examples on the show typical of an immigrant family: there is a code change (change of language between parents and children during the same conversation), Khan’s mother prepares a bag full of homemade food for his best friend Bruno, and the strain of trying to grow up in a western country without disappointing his parents at the same time.
“It’s a very young, hopeful, colorful show that not only will speak to all Muslims around the world, but also, you know, has a universal appeal and everyone, even non-Muslims, can relate to (and) feel empathy for that and I love that character,” El Arbi says.
Ms. Marvel is important in that it will hopefully open doors for more of these stories to be told in nuanced and meaningful ways.
“I feel like that’s kind of what Marvel does really well, it’s sort of saying any type of person can be a superhero, and they’re sort of like n any of us and I think we’re kind of at the beginning of this and the MCU,” Amanat says.
The show already has a famous fan, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who wrote that “it’s not every day that I turn on the television and find a character who eats the same foods, listens to the same music or use the same Urdu phrases as me.”
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