Perspectives

Ms. Marvel: representation aside, the show shines on its own

  • The series makes for good television, and holds its own against other MCU shows
Published July 15, 2022

Representation has been at the heart of why Pakistanis tuned in to watch Ms. Marvel, and has completely overtaken the narrative around the show, with very little said about its actual content. Ultimately, though, the series makes for good TV that the whole family can watch, and holds its own against other MCU shows (think WandaVision, Loki, Hawkeye).

At the heart of it, it’s a quintessential coming of age superhero show, targeted mainly at a young audience.

It’s solid and engaging, keeping audiences sufficiently hooked until the last episode. And their loyalty does not go unrewarded because episode 6 really takes the show to the next level.

But let’s start from the beginning.

Pakistanis were invested in the show because the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fan following in this country, as elsewhere globally, is huge. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen at least some of its 30-something movies and six Disney+ TV shows.

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What really pulled them in though was that although the MCU is made up of multiverses, humans, mutants, aliens, robots, Norse gods, billionaire techies, really everything imaginable, there was one thing Pakistanis never thought they would see. Someone like them in a main role.

There is general consensus now that Ms. Marvel has done for Pakistanis – immigrant and otherwise - what Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings did for Asian Americans.

One fan, who has loved Spiderman since he learnt to walk, said “I have family in New Jersey. And I see my cousins in Ms. Marvel, dealing with desi issues and Islamophobia.

"Plus there is now someone in the MCU that young, Muslim Pakistani American girls and boys can look up to and literally see themselves in. How cool is that?”

Very cool, indeed.

Another viewer told me: “the overall storytelling in general of MCU TV shows is not something I’m a huge fan of, and the fact that Pakistani culture was being shown in an MCU show automatically made me like Ms. Marvel more than the others.”

Latest episode of Ms. Marvel an ode to Karachi

And it did not disappoint: We all chuckled when protagonist Kamala Khan’s brother tells her to recite Bismillah before her driving test, related hard when she doesn’t get permission to go to the first ever AvengerCon as Captain Marvel, and got emotional when her local mosque, frequented by the whole family not just the men, is shown as a place where the community genuinely comes together to pray, celebrate and rally around Kamala’s friends to protect them when the need arises - no threats to be seen here.

(Side note: I was secretly jealous with how easily her family accepted her best guy friend as practically a member of the household and how she somehow gets permission to go to a house party).

Another Pakistan fan noted that it was “refreshing to see a new face in the MCU rather than all the characters that have already been established and they're making shows about. It was starting to get over-saturated in my opinion.” (Marvel's Phase 4 TV shows so far have been about characters we’ve already seen in movies).

Up to episode 5, we see Kamala discover her great grandmother’s magical bangle and try to come to grips with harnessing her powers. We are given a detailed back story of her family history and Partition – some people have been critical of the simplistic way this historical incident was depicted, yet it’s never controversial enough to offend anyone.

It’s also extremely well-shot - one scene where Kamala falls onto a bed and the camera falls with her and then flips took many cuts to get just right.

The actors all do justice to their roles We collectively swoon over Fawad Khan and Mehwish Hayat and we love to see Nimra Bucha's action sequence. We also get excited over heart-throb Farhan Akhtar from across the border showing up in one episode. It’s all smooth sailing.

And then there was episode 6, which really blew many away. It screamed: this is a Marvel show, in case we thought it was going to go easy on the action sequences, which are on par with any MCU show or movie.

In classic Marvel fashion, we are given one twist at the end of the episode. And the second twist that leaves us scratching our head comes at the end of the first set of credits – a surprise cameo of the superhero that Kamala idolised growing up.

(Side note: my personal favourite part of episode 6, though, is when the mosque’s imam is making a video, accidentally uses the hot dog filter on his face, laughs and says: I hope this is a halal hot dog!)

As per Rotten Tomatoes, that holy grail of reviews, Ms. Marvel “is a genuinely fresh addition to the MCU - both stylistically and substantively - with Pakistani-Canadian Iman Vellani ably powering proceedings with her super-sized charisma.”

And that sums it up quite accurately.

Partition

No review would be complete without mentioning how the show deals with Partition. It’s a heavy subject to put in a show aimed at kids.

One can understand why it was important for Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy, who directed two episodes, to touch upon this topic. She has spent years collecting oral histories of Partition as part of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan and this was a chance to share that with an international audience.

"I grew up listening to my grandparents' stories of what it was like in 1947 for them and their families," she said in an Instagram post.

"I wanted Kamala to hear those actual conversations when she landed in Partition. I wanted her to feel the anguish that families were feeling as they were uprooted leaving their homes, their friends, the life that they knew, never to return again".

I admire her guts for tackling such a huge topic, but I wonder if it was overly simplified. In one scene that has gone viral on social media, Kamala’s grandmother tells her: “My passport is Pakistani and my roots are Indian. And in between is a border, built with blood and pain.”

“People are claiming their identity based on an idea some old Englishmen had when they were fleeing the country.”

If the "idea" she is referring to was Partition itself, then it was something many Muslims in the subcontinent had wanted at the time. If the "idea" is the border itself and the ways in which the lines were drawn, then yes, perhaps she is right.

According to one viewer: “Partition is sensitive for both sides and the fear of not upsetting anyone (India or Pakistan) yet being adamant in trying to be realistic in your representation sounds like a confused approach."

"Partition was brutal. It doesn’t feel like its been tackled like that, and Mehwish Hayat’s perfect makeup and glamorous colors doesn’t help break that illusion either.”

Fair enough, and there is never going to be a “right” way to deal with this topic. But kudos to Sharmeen for doing it anyway, and for finally giving us the representation we have been desperately craving on a global level.

Regardless of what we all thought of it, there’s no doubt we’re counting down the days to The Marvels – its not out till next year but it's going to feature Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel and Nick Fury.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Saleha Riaz

The writer is Editor, Special Coverage at Business Recorder

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