I felt proud of Kumail Nanjiani when He wrote on Twitter that he “cried” after the news that the teenager of Pakistani-American Islam Iman Velani got the lead role in the MCU, “Miss Marvel“As a woman of Pakistani descent who was born and raised in the UK by immigrant parents, let me tell you what it’s like to grow up with limited representation in film and television: alienation, injustice and confusion.
“It was a huge feeling that the stories of my community weren’t important enough, polite, glamorous and even family-friendly for Hollywood.”
Yes, I spent my first years living in a predominantly South Asian London city where there were a lot of people like me. But even at 5 years old I remember that was not enough. Where were all those people who were like me on TV or on the big screen? Looking back, I am grateful that my childhood memories focus on classics such as Matilda and Jurassic Park, but I had a great feeling that the stories of my community are not important, cute, glamorous or even family – friendly enough for Hollywood.
I turned to Bollywood to combat visual emptiness to natural growth too stimulating a song in the genre, dances and dramatic dialogues in adolescence. I also realized that the Indian film industry is still not an accurate reflection of my Pakistani heritage and culture, and the following years did little to satisfy my desire for representation.
So you can imagine, I was expecting further disappointment when I saw that in 2019 there was an announcement about the casting for “Miss Marvel”. Doubtfully, they wanted the lead role to be “real”. A real Pakistani-American teenager Muslim? Yes, yes, I thought, rolling my eyes. I figured that any brown-eyed, black-haired actress who vaguely matched the Kamala Khan poster would get a concert. (I was also angry that I had fallen out of the age group and couldn’t audition myself).
So, with my ungodly expectations from the first Muslim superhero Marvel, the news of the choice of Velani, who was born in Canada, came as an unexpected, fulfilling and deeply festive event for my community in three key respects.
First, we got what we were promised: a true Pakistani-American Muslim takes on the role of a Pakistani-American Muslim. Who would have thought? Second, with the young woman who is now in the mix, we should not attribute the rare success that Pakistanis have in the Western media only to (brilliantly talented) men like Kumail, Reese Ahmed and Zane Malik, etc. Third, she is a complete novice who has been given the rare opportunity to infiltrate the film industry at a high and desirable level.
“Imagine being able to finally realize that you can break through racial and gender boundaries to achieve anything, no matter how far-fetched it may seem.”
Velani’s groundbreaking raid on Hollywood will undoubtedly have significant weight for thousands of little Pakistani girls around the world. Imagine that you finally have a basic idea that tells you that you matter. And imagine, finally, you can understand that you can break through racial and gender boundaries to achieve everything you want, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Seriously, what a stunning achievement, and how long it will be.
Of course, representing the whole community in the mainstream media is a lot of pressure to render a 19-year-old girl thrown into a big, bad world of celebrities with little acting experience. Hopefully, I’m sure Velany understands that stratospheric support comes with pressure. In addition, she is also in the skilful hands of director Sharmin Obaid-China, who is a two-time Oscar winner who is herself a Pakistani-Canadian is the perfect (and important) person to liven up the series. Double hit!
Honestly, I’m not the biggest Marvel fan. However, I couldn’t help but realize that Marvel’s cinematic universe has contributed to the careers of minority stars such as Zoe Saldana, Zendaya, Leticia Wright, Tessa Thompson and others. With a film franchise that boasts some of the most famous alumni ever, I’m sure Velanie is happy to add her name to the list. And I hope that once we get “Miss Marvel” from Disney +, we’ll all be able to just enjoy the series and celebrate its cultural significance, rather than criticizing and tearing it apart.
The premiere of “Miss Marvel” will take place at Disney + June 8.