In Ms Marvel, a teenage Pakistani-American superhero arises

Pakistani-Canadian actress Iman Vellani plays Kamala Khan, a teenager who has to negotiate living in two cultures. PHOTO: MARVEL STUDIOS

SINGAPORE - In the Disney+ superhero series Ms Marvel, the focus is on Kamala Khan, the title character who happens to be a teenager from a Pakistani-American family.

On top of dealing with the usual teenage issues, Kamala, played by Pakistani-Canadian actress Iman Vellani, 19, has to negotiate living in two cultures.

That split, in the series as in the source Marvel comic book, is a source of confusion, chaos and comedy.

American actress Yasmeen Fletcher, 19, plays Nakia Bahadir, Kamala's Turkish-American best friend. In keeping with the comic books, Fletcher's Nakia wears a hijab in the series.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an online conference, Fletcher says she relates to the series as she also grew up living in two cultures, as her mother is of Lebanese-Christian origin while her father is white.

"I grew up mixed, so I was thrown in the centre of that, with two completely different cultures. I think that this mix comes with a lot of unique identity issues and complexes that Kamala and my character go through," she says.

Marvel Studios' Ms Marvel launches on Disney+ on June 8.

Kamala Khan, the comic-book character, was co-created by Marvel Comics editor Sana Amanat, who also serves as the series' executive producer. In the comics, biculturalism is a major component of Kamala's identity.

British actor Rish Shah, 27, plays Kamran, a character who makes Kamala's heart flutter.

"Being British Indian, I grew up in a household where you code-switch all the time," says Shah, sharing the online panel with Fletcher and American actor Matt Lintz, who plays Kamala's childhood friend, Bruno.

Shah says seeing Kamala also code-switch when she interacts with her family and friends at high school are scenes that hit "close to home".

Unlike recent Marvel superhero shows such as Moon Knight (2022), Ms Marvel puts comedy front and centre. Much of the first two episodes deal with the zaniness that follows when she discovers her powers, which she struggles to keep under wraps.

(From left) Iman Vellani, Yasmeen Fletcher and Matt Lintz in Ms Marvel. PHOTO: MARVEL STUDIOS

Despite being told "no" by her parents, her fangirl obsession with superheroes Carol Danvers (also known as Captain Marvel) and The Avengers drives her to sneak out to the AvengerCon fan convention.

To get a feel of the level of energy the show demanded, American actor Lintz, 21, says the actors were asked to look to coming-of-age comedies such as Lady Bird (2017).

"But we also have our own tone. But it definitely has that coming-of-age comedy feel," he says.

SPH Brightcove Video
John Lui interviews Yasmeen Fletcher, Rish Shah and Matt Lintz – co-stars of the new Disney+ show Ms Marvel, about a 16-year-old superhero and Captain Marvel superfan Kamala Khan.

For Shah, the most interesting aspect of the series is that it acknowledges that Kamala lives in a world where superheroes are real and there are those who admire them for everything they have done for the planet.

While superheroes might be fictional in today's universe, he thinks the show's references to fandom will not be missed by those who love Marvel characters.

"What's exciting about this show is that it's the first time that fans will feel seen. Kamala is such a fan of Carol Danvers of The Avengers, she goes to AvengerCon with Bruno and that's such an homage to Marvel fans."

Ms Marvel launches on Disney+ on June 8.

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