I Never Thought I’d See My Muslim Family Represented in a Marvel Show

From an overbearing mother who wants to “protect” you to a brother who will cover for you, Ms. Marvel gets South Asian Muslim representation not just right but also fun.
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Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. All photos courtesy of Marvel Studios.

“What are you doing? I’m not recognising you. Who is this rebellious girl, sneaking out, lying to Abbu and me?”

As someone who’s grown up in a moderately conservative (yes, it’s an oxymoron but that’s how it is) Muslim family, I’ve heard several iterations of this dialogue from Ms. Marvel from my parents all my life. 

In Marvel’s new show, with six episodes dropping weekly on Disney+ until July 13, the lead character of Kamala Khan – the first Muslim superhero by Marvel played beautifully by Iman Vellani in her debut role – is always at a crossroads. There is so much she wants to do: attend an AvengersCon where she can dress as her favourite Marvel superhero in a cosplay competition, jump curfew hours to live her life, and just seek solace in her world of superhero fan fiction. 

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Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo: Daniel McFadden/hMarvel Studios

It makes perfect sense that the show's first episode is titled “Generation Why.” This is the “why” we have always asked our parents who seem to be living in a parallel world chock-full of rules and morals. The “why” is less a question and more a sad plea. But there are no banging doors or even locked doors when Kamala is at loggerheads with her parents. When movies and shows depict an angry white brat banging the door on their parents’ faces after a heated argument, we South Asian kids certainly cannot relate to it. That would merit the death sentence in a Muslim or any South Asian household. So, our Kamala Khan cannot and will not raise her voice and she cannot and will not dare to threaten to leave the house either. 

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When movies and shows depict an angry white brat banging the door on their parents’ faces after a heated argument, South Asian kids certainly cannot relate to it. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.​

Refreshingly, Ms. Marvel circumvents stereotypes of a Muslim family, and this is where it hits the ball out of the park. The mother is not perpetually layered up in a burqa (most South Asian Muslim mothers I know, including my own, don’t wear a burqa, contrary to popular belief), and the father is not the patriarch with a long, flowing beard and muttering Allah’s name under his breath at all times. Like many South Asian mums I know, she has a multi-tiered tiffin ready for Kamala’s best friend, Bruno, to take away when he doesn’t have time to sit down and eat with the family. Yes, in South Asia we invite our guests to eat with us, even the ones who just drop in, for food – unlike the Swedes.

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(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir, and Nimra Bucha as Najma in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studio

But the way Islam seeps into everyday life is portrayed effortlessly, like saying Bismillah (“in the name of God”) before you begin work; having that one family member who is always in their ultra-religious phase for a few weeks; aunties turning up their noses when they hear of someone breaking their engagement to “gallivant” around the world and flirt with a gora (white boy); the endless efforts of Muslim mothers to ensure their children (mostly daughters) don’t fall into the devil’s trap by wearing “skimpy” clothes. 

Another underrated aspect that I deeply resonated with was the subdued portrayal of siblings as a source of great support. In a Muslim household or any South Asian one for that matter, siblings usually have a strong bond. They come together to stand against parents who seem to be stuck in the 1970s, and together, figure out a mutually beneficial system of truths and lies. When Khan’s parents refuse to let her go to AvengersCon, her older brother Aamir Khan (played by Saagar Shaikh) gets her a cup of tea to calm her down. 

“You look pathetic,” he smiles. “I’ll talk to them, I got you.”

Doesn’t that sound like a warm hug? For those of us with supportive siblings, this certainly sounded like one. My elder brother, much like Aamir (I think they might even be the same age), stood by me against my parents, even after all our nasty sibling fistfights and my (almost) illogical tantrums. When my parents despaired that I’d while away my time reading useless novels that according to them did nothing to help my grades, and confiscated most of my paperbacks, my brother would slip in an Agatha Christie novel under my door. Or a Chetan Bhagat, when he was still bearable.


Everyday acts of sexism, with a family being more liberal to its boys rather than girls, comes out in small ways too, without being made a fuss over or shamed and instead, just stated as facts that exist alongside other ways in which our family structures differ from those in the West.

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South Asian sibling dynamics are well portrayed in Ms. Marvel. Photo by Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios

Isn’t the great South Asian childhood an accumulation of these little anecdotes? A succession of these warm hugs punctuated with personal tyrannies? In the shrill rhetoric that Muslim families are often reduced to in pop culture, these humane nuances get lost, to the point where they start seeming odd even to us. Muslims in pop culture are always singled out for their Muslimness with an unwarranted portrayal of either repressive attitudes to women or complicity in some kind of apocalyptic catastrophe. 

But here, the family is just… ordinary! It is not scary, not bogged down by the long shadow of hate crimes and false accusations. And neither are the day-to-day elements of their life overtly explained. They just are. This is an important distinction when it becomes indeed impossible to view a Muslim family as a unit independent from all the politics and baggage attached to it.

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Here, the family is just… ordinary! Photo by Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios

It also helps that the character was written and developed by a team of Muslim writers and creators, safe from the white gaze. In 2016, when the American-Pakistani Sana Amanat – co-creator of Ms. Marvel – introduced the character to former American president Barack Obama, he famously remarked that “Ms. Marvel may be your comic book creation, but I think for a lot of young boys and girls, Sana’s a real superhero.”

Interestingly, a small section of critics hates that the show does not touch upon the fraught India-Pakistan geopolitical relations, Islamic radicalism, or good ol’ terrorism. To witness a show that dares to portray a story of an ambitious, starry-eyed Muslim girl with big dreams, minus the binaries of bombs and biryanis, might seem unfathomable to many. 

But it’s here. On primetime TV. And we’re here for it. 

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