Editor’s note: This story contains some spoilers about the new Disney+ show “Ms. Marvel.”
So much of what the Edmond teen saw on the screen was familiar to her — the rhythm of an iconic Pakistani song, a character’s selection of a mango at a market, ornate jewelry sent from an overseas relative.
For Aleeza Azeem, there were many parts of Kamala Khan’s life that were instantly relatable. She said was touched right from the start of the show — from Kamala Khan’s opening line.
“In the first line I believe Kamala says ‘Finally, the moment everyone has been waiting for’ and I think that kind of like made me emotional,” she said. “I felt like she was speaking to the Muslim Pakistani community.”
Azeem was one of several metro-area youths who recently gathered to watch the first episode of “Ms. Marvel,” a new original series on the Disney+ streaming platform. The original show, which premiered on June 8, is based on a Marvel comic book series and produced by Marvel Studios. It follows the adventures of Kamala Khan, a Muslim teen living in New Jersey who is delighted to learn she has superpowers, particularly because she is a huge fan of the superhero Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers.
Notably, the Pakistani-American Kamala is portrayed by actor Iman Vellani, who is a Pakistani-Canadian.
Azeem, who is 17, said she and the fictional Kamala are about the same age and both are high school students. And both also seem to be figuring out how to live their best lives as young Muslim Americans adhering to a minority faith and culture.
“After watching the first episode, I felt visible, heard and appreciated,” said Azeem, who will be an Edmond Memorial senior this fall.
The recent watch party was held in the Nichols Hills home of Rizwan and Bushra Aslam. The couple’s two children, Casady School students Umar and Amaar Aslam, were among the young people who gathered on sofas and chairs to view Kamala Khan’s story.
The youths ranging in age from 8 to 17 had good things to say about the show and most said they planned to view more episodes.
“I thought it was pretty interesting and it was nice to see a Muslim in the spot of a good character,” said Fahim Nazir, 13.
Shayan Ahmed, 9, said he liked the show’s cultural references.
“What I think about ‘Mrs. Marvel’ is that it had Pakistani cultural stuff, like all that music. That was good,” he said.
Ziyan Khan, 15, said he also liked the show.
“I liked the part about the representation of the Pakistani food in the street scene, you know that mangos and stuff, which is a pretty accurate representation,” Khan said.
Meanwhile, hostess Bushra Aslam, a doctor specializing in infectious disease, laughed out loud at several scenes of the show and nodded knowingly a few times.
She said the show’s depiction of Kamala’s parents as very protective was an accurate portrayal of many Muslim parents, particularly mothers.
Both Aslam and Azeem said there were plenty of references to Muslim and South Asian culture in the show that perhaps only someone familiar with those cultures would pick up on.
Azeem mentioned several such instances, including a scene where Kamala picks up a mango, Pakistan’s national fruit, during a stroll through a market area with her mother. Also, she said there was a prominent rendition of “Ko Ko Korina,” a song from 1966 that is widely thought to be Pakistan’s first pop song.
Aslam said Kamala’s mother used a word to describe the man who gave her daughter a driving test and it wasn’t a pleasant name but people outside the culture may not understand its meaning. For her part, she thought it was funny and noticed that her sons gasped when they heard it.
Ultimately, she described “Ms. Marvel” as “a nice, warm show.”
“I think it’s so important for these kids to see themselves as part the fabric of America,” she said. “It’s just so important for them to see there are kids out there going through the same things, the same struggles.”
The doctor said she also liked the positive depiction of the intercultural friendship between Kamala and her buddy Bruno.
“That’s what we should encourage. That is what the America of the future is going to be so it’s important for these kids to know that that is totally normal,” she said.
Positive representation in ‘Ms. Marvel’
Other Oklahoma City area Muslims also shared their thoughts about the new show.
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he has seen other television shows include positive representation of Muslims so he thinks the “tide is actually shifting” toward more accurate depictions of Muslim characters.
He said he was familiar with the “Ms. Marvel” comic book series before the Disney+ show was announced and he was especially pleased that Vellani, the actor portraying Kamala, is of Pakistani descent like the superhero she brings to life.
“As the director of CAIR-Oklahoma, I know that negative representation of Muslims has an impact on the everyday life of Muslims in America, from everything from hate rhetoric, to hate crimes to just the feeling of being comfortable in your own skin as a Muslim in America,” he said. “So positive representation is definitely what we want to see more and ‘Ms. Marvel’ is taking not just a step in the right direction, it’s taking a leap in the right direction.”
Masood Abdul-Haqq, of Oklahoma City, said he had not watched the show but he liked its concept.
“Just the idea, in general, is the principle of normalizing a part of the population that is often overlooked and I think that’s always a great thing,” he said.
Abdul-Haqq said he also thought the show’s focus on a female was “powerful.”
“In so many forms of media, we see Muslim women being portrayed as people who are oppressed or people who don’t have a voice or they’re being constrained by men in some in some kind of way, he said.
“There are tons of dynamic, powerful women in the Muslim community. I think having someone that gets outside of those normal stereotypes is definitely a good thing.”
Rand Alzubi, of Oklahoma City, said she watched two of the three episodes that have been made available on Disney+.
Alzubi said a friend had said she was troubled by some aspects of it so she watched it expecting to feel the same, but she didn’t.
“I actually thought it was well done,” Alzubi said. “I was worried that they would like portray Islam in a negative light and it doesn’t seem like it does that at all.
She said she thought the show accurately portrayed the struggles that some Muslim Americans may experience between the American culture they live in and the culture in other countries where their parents were raised.
“I think she’s (Kamala Khan) just struggling with cultural differences that our parents have,” Alzubi said.
“I think it’s very normal. For most of us that grew up in the U.S. with parents that are from overseas, our culture overseas is just generally more strict, we don’t hang out with our friends as much or go out as much. So, I thought it (show) was accurate.”
Alzubi said she plans to tune in for more episodes.
“I thought it was funny and I’m interested in seeing more,” she said.