Riz Ahmed and Mindy Kaling are right: We need a Ms. Marvel movie
The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is very much in question after the climactic events of Avengers: Infinity War, but actor Riz Ahmed offered a hopeful possibility Tuesday when he tweeted that he, Mindy Kaling, and Kumail Nanjiani are more than willing to work on a Ms. Marvel movie.
Just to clarify up front: Next March, Marvel Studios will release Captain Marvel, a ’90s-set film starring Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who gains alien superpowers and becomes embroiled in an intergalactic war. Although Danvers was originally referred to as “Ms. Marvel” when she first got powers in 1977, Ahmed and his friends are referring to a different character who recently succeeded her in the role: Kamala Khan.
Khan was created by Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker in 2014, and she immediately made headlines for being the first mainstream Muslim superhero to get her own comic. In the years since her debut, Khan has developed into a well-rounded character and one of Marvel’s premier superheroes, capable of speaking to the millennial experience and the travails of 21st-century America in a way that her decades-old cohorts like Captain America and Iron Man simply cannot. Ahmed, Kaling, and Nanjiani are absolutely correct that a Ms. Marvel movie needs to be made as soon as possible. In fact, it’s ridiculous that such a movie isn’t already in development, given the way Khan speaks to a new generation of superhero fans.
Wilson has written Ms. Marvel consistently since the series launched, and under her stewardship it has remained one of the best superhero comics on stands. Khan’s newness as a character frees her from the restraints of long-running continuity and allows ample room for growth. In just her first few years, Ms. Marvel has gone from a DIY hero to a leading member of superteams like the Avengers, the Champions, and the Exiles. On the page, her rise to stardom has been portrayed realistically as a young person struggling to juggle multiple commitments to school, friends, family, and extracurricular activities — a difficult balance that many overly stressed young people today can surely relate to, as Wilson discussed with EW in 2015.
“I have younger friends who are in this pinch where they feel they’ve been counted out before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves. They’ve inherited a lot of debt — not just student debt, but environmental debt, political debt. They really feel squeezed,” Wilson said. “It was very important to me to give Kamala a recognizable voice — not just of a young person from any time and place, but a young person that is very grounded in the reality that young people face living in America in 2015. I’m in a position to advocate for these younger people at a time when not a lot of people are. That was something very important to me to do with this series.”
But while Kamala’s adventures speak to the broad experience of young people, she also represents some very specific struggles. Kamala has become a powerful cultural symbol in a time of increasing xenophobia and prejudice, particularly against Muslims. When Islamophobic bus ads appeared in San Francisco in 2015, some enterprising activists started covering them up with graffiti images of Ms. Marvel. Khan is also the daughter of immigrants, making her a true champion of the oppressed during an era in which the president of the United States has referred to some unauthorized immigrants as “animals.” These aren’t vague or abstract themes in her stories, either. In the pages of her comic, Khan has battled nefarious corporations and wannabe fascists trying to gentrify and gerrymander her hometown of Jersey City. A year before, when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress to testify about his platform’s mishandling of user data, Ms. Marvel was fighting against an enigmatic adversary who used the panopticon surveillance of social media and internet gaming to discover her secret identity and threaten her friends.
“We’re living in a very fictionalized time in terms of the way we tend to see the world in general, and the Muslim world in particular. The line between fiction and reality has become very dangerously blurred,” Wilson told EW in 2015. “The upshot of that is the stories we tell about ourselves as a culture about who we are and what the rest of the world is are very important. When people think about the moments in their lives that formed who they were and their opinions, no one talks about a segment on CNN. They talk about Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter. These are the stories, especially now when we’re starting to crowdsource belief systems, these are the things that really matter. If I can in some small way add something constructive to that dialogue, make people think again about black-and-white ideas they may have had, then that’s great.”
Ms. Marvel also avoids many of the most unpleasant superhero tropes, especially for female characters. Rather than alienate her friends and family with her alter ego, Kamala works with them and learns from them — their trust in each other makes her a better superhero. Her diverse supporting cast of high school friends would put even Spider-Man: Homecoming to shame; in some issues, Khan is mostly off-page, and her friends take the spotlight to great effect.
Khan’s costume is not revealing, and reflects her Pakistani-American culture: Its look is influenced by the shalwar kameez, and she accessorizes with a dupatta scarf and gold bangles on her arm. On top of that, Kamala’s superpowers are effective rather than seductive: She’s a shapeshifter who can increase or decrease the size of her body, as a whole or in individual parts. Her delightful term for this super-size effect is “embiggen,” and it would be quite entertaining to see her embiggen her fists and feet on the big screen. Even Kamala’s powers are relatable — after all, what kid hasn’t dreamed of growing big enough to fight the world’s problems head-on? What teenager hasn’t hoped to shrink small enough to hide from their stressors? In a way, this is an echo of the original superhero called Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam), a young boy who could say a magic word and instantly be transformed into a strapping adult superhero. Khan has deep roots in the history of superhero comic books — just look at that lightning-bolt symbol on her chest — which she has adapted to the problems of the present. She deserves to be everywhere, including the big screen.
Hopefully, Ms. Marvel can avoid the fate of her good friend Miles Morales, who earned no more than an oblique reference by Donald Glover’s character in Spider-Man: Homecoming (though he’ll soon appear as a lead character in the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). Kamala Khan is a superhero worthy of the big screen, and now some of the most acclaimed young talents in the business are clamoring to help her get there. What are we waiting for?