Ms. Marvel co-creator Sana Amanat discusses the Red Dagger and Kamala's trip to Karachi
No one understands where Kamala Khan came from more than Sana Amanat. As a Marvel Comics editor in 2014, Amanat co-created the Muslim superhero now known as Ms. Marvel alongside writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editor Steve Wacker. These days, she's a producer on the Ms. Marvel series currently streaming on Disney+. She knows firsthand how complex the creation of such an instant icon is.
That made Amanat the perfect person to catch up with at this point in Ms. Marvel's run, when the show is clearly delving into Kamala's deep roots — not just in her hometown of Jersey City, but also in Pakistan and even other dimensions. Following Kamala's trip to Karachi on this week's episode, we talked to Amanat about the Red Daggers, djinn, and intergenerational family relationships.
Check out an edited version of that chat below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Sana, a couple years ago I talked to you, Willow, and Saladin Ahmed when you guys were ending the initial run of the Ms. Marvel comic. We talked then about how instantly iconic the character was, but now that this show is out there in the world I wanted to check in with you. I see you on Twitter sometimes sharing the joy of the show. How would you say you're feeling?
SANA AMANAT: Yes, I think joy is the best way to describe it. It's been a very long journey, obviously. I mean God, it was back in 2013 when we did the first announcement, and now here we are almost 10 years later and the show has become this global thing, which I certainly never expected. Willow and I always joke about how back then we were like, 'well, okay, we'll get a few issues.' Now here we are doing a show with a whole cast of people — directors, producers, actors — who are so invested in it. It was just a little idea that grew from there. I am so grateful and I feel really lucky. But joy is exactly the word. I feel like a lot of people are celebrating the show and it's just so much fun just seeing their reactions. Even the small things like, 'oh, we love the music,' or other stylistic choices that we made that were quite intentional. I just love that people are really resonating with it.
EW: Speaking of stylistic choices, this show is very colorful! Obviously, this week's episode was in Karachi, so we got all the colors and flavors of Pakistan. But even when it's in a New Jersey mosque, the show just looks so colorful. The MCU definitely has a diversity of tones, but some shows and movies can feel more gray than others. How did you all decide on a different style for Ms. Marvel?
AMANAT: We intentionally went in being like, 'okay, we're going to do a brighter show.' We always knew that and would just be like, 'how bright can we go? How much can we get away with?' while making sure it still felt like it was in the MCU. But I mean, that's what I loved about the comics was the brightness of it. You know the comics, Christian. There's the Marvel style and then there are all these other comics that we try more experiments with and that's kind of what we did with Ms. Marvel. We wanted the imagery of the show to feel like Adrian Alphona, Jamie McKelvie, Ian Herring, Nico Leon, and all these amazing artists who came together on the comic. We wanted the show to feel like it was their world come to life.
It's also a credit to our directors, who would constantly be like, "see, this isn't a regular MCU show, this is our show." And they would just show us the bright lockers and all the time. They would show us the comic and really appreciate how much they paid homage.
EW: I've been curious about how the show was going to explain Kamala's powers, because in the comics she's an Inhuman but the Inhumans aren't as big of a priority for Marvel anymore like they were in 2014-2015. The shift to djinn as her background is really interesting. When it comes to your work with the showrunners and directors, how do you guys decide what to carry over from the comic and what to change?
AMANAT: I switched over to Marvel Studios two and a half years ago. I came on for this project, specifically to shepherd it into production, and work with the writer's room that [head writer] Bisha [K. Ali] and her team put together. They were trying to steep the story in a different kind of mythos that was one linked to larger MCU stories, but also linked a little bit to the lore of Islamic and Asian mythology. My first thought when I came in was, "well, people are going to be really mad we changed these powers."
I was very aware of what we were walking into. But supervising producer Jenna Berger understood that the show needed to have a balance of what made the comic so special and unique, while at the same time evolving it and making it a true adaptation. That was Kevin's first challenge to me. He was like, "can you adapt this? You're so close to the comic, do you think you can adapt this?" I think I took up to that challenge of saying, "Okay, well, the thing that captivates me the most was this story about Kamala and her lineage and her past." There were only a few issues that were done about it in the comics. I told Bisha, "no matter what we do, the story of the show is this lineage," which we didn't really delve into in the comics. Yet, there's a lot of things that they did pull from the comics that, so the essence of the comics are in the show. I think that's really how we found that balance.
The MCU version of Kamala's powers really match the colorful style of the show we were just talking about. It seems like we're no longer in the era where Jeremy Renner would be cast as Hawkeye and now every comic with Hawkeye has to draw him so he looks like Jeremy Renner. It feels like now fans and creators are all a little more comfortable having the comics be their thing and the MCU be their thing, they're related but different. It doesn't seem like Kamala's comic book powers are going to be changing anytime soon.
AMANAT: I hope not! I hope they stick to what they got. I think inherently, there's a lot of similarities as it is just in terms of the ancestry in the comics. She comes from an alien, you know what I mean?
This episode introduces another character from the comics, Kareem a.k.a Red Dagger (Aramis Knight), and expands this whole Order of Red Daggers. What do you like about this character and concept?
Sabir Pirzada, who's the writer of this episode and actually one of our supervising producers as well, is just a huge fan of Red Dagger. He came in like, "yo, Red Dagger's so cool." We made fun of him a little bit. I love Sabir so much, but he's just like, "yeah, this is the guy." I completely agree, I think Red Dagger is super awesome. I was very excited when the writers were like, "oh, we're going to tell a Pakistan episode." Going to Pakistan feels like a season 2 thing, and we did it in one season. Great aggressive move on the writers. I know Kevin was very excited about that in particular.
I'm a huge fan of the Red Daggers. I love making them an order. The only thing is, if you asked me what I wish that we had more time for, it would be delving into the backstory of The Order of the Red Daggers, because there's a lot more that we were percolating on that we just didn't have time to shoot, frankly. But I love their team-up. I know everyone's talking about there being a romantic interest, but there isn't right now. Okay? Everyone's like, "really, three boys?" But we intentionally pulled back on that.
The larger intention was showcasing that Kamala has been idolizing these heroes in the Western world that look nothing like her. Then she goes back to her roots and she meets these individuals who've just worked really hard to be good at what they are. There's a line that Waleed [Farhan Akhtar] says, about how the red scarf is for anyone who's willing to put it on, it's just a representation of what they're trying to do. I think that's what Waleed is trying to say: "First of all, it doesn't really matter what you look like. It doesn't really matter about code names or armor or what kinds of clothes that you're wearing as long as you're linked to something much greater." That's really what I think the whole point was bringing in Waleed and Kareem into this show.
Kamala is a proud Jersey girl and wears that on her sleeve, literally. But with this episode, we're really seeing how Pakistan and her extended family are just as much a part of her heritage. The cliffhanger ending even sends her back to the time of the Partition. Why did you want to connect her to this history?
I think it's always interesting to understand the different worlds that you belong to and what your relationship is to all of them. I think everyone should analyze their relationship to the place in which they are residing, to the place in which their families have come from, and the history behind all of it. That really gives you, not necessarily a sense of who you actually are, but it gives you the tools to be able to decide what kind of person you want to be.
I love that the show took time to explore the relationship not just between Kamala and her mom (Zenobia Shroff), but also between her mom and grandmother Sana.
Those are some of my favorite scenes in the show. At one point some people were worried it was slowing down the episode, but I was adamant. By the way, I did not name the character Sana, the sweetheart writers did that. It was a very sweet tribute to me before I joined the project. I'm like, "guys, my name's on this everywhere. We don't…" But it was just very sweet.
Samina Ahmed, who plays the grandmother, is a delight. She's a true joy and she's a lovely person. She reminds me of my family and my grandmother. That scene was so important. It was kind of laying down how this moment in time, Partition, really did lay out a lot of loss and trauma. I think also in any type of big, traumatic, historical events, the women are forgotten. You talk about the men, but the women are sort of forgotten. These are sort of the remnants of kind of what's left after a moment like that and how the relationships are affected by it.
Is there a deliberate resonance between the real-life legacy of Partition that created all these refugees and this legacy of trauma, and what we're hearing about the Noor and the way that they're separated from their home? So far the Clandestines have come across pretty evil, but is that an intentional shading?
I'm glad you caught that, very lovely observation. I was like, "are people going to get that or no?" Ultimately, this is a story about identity. How do you understand your identity without understanding what home is and what home means to you? The Clandestines are an interesting foil in that regard, because you are talking about people being displaced, and then there are these people and here's how they interpret their displacement. There's a much larger metaphor there and I want to see what people think of it.
I'm really interested in the post wrap-up conversations about this entire show. Because it's very layered, you're talking about South Asian character, but you're also talking about a Muslim character. So, I think we intentionally tried to tell a story of what it means when you lose your home and how you try to create a new one. I mean, it's what Kamala's parents did. They came to a new country, they created a home for themselves here. And yet, Kamala feels like she doesn't understand what that means. So, there's certainly a lot of parallels and very intentionally so.
The next episode is going to be an interesting one. Full disclosure, it's the episode I'm most nervous about. I think it's really great, but we took some risks with that episode. So, I'm curious to know how people are going to respond to it.
Iman Vellani suits up as Pakistani American hero Kamala Khan in this Disney+ Marvel series.