The rise of a Pakistani-American superhero

July 31, 2022

It may not be perfect but the new Ms. Marvel Disney+ series – airing in cinemas in Pakistan – still gives us plenty of reasons to celebrate.

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Ms. Marvel is a desi expat Marvel fan’s fever dream come to streaming life, and it’s all kinds of glorious.


here is, at times, something quite surreal about wat-ching Ms. Marvel. There she is, Kamala Khan, dressed in a shalwar kameez and fighting bad guys like a pro in a wedding venue’s kitchen while a Bon Jovi song plays in the background! And now she’s in Karachi (well, Thailand actually, but let’s just go with it), in the middle of a chase sequence involving a rickshaw and a truck that could easily bear the #OnlyInPakistan hashtag.

It’s like a desi expat Marvel fan’s fever dream come to streaming life. And it’s all kinds of glorious.

Sure, the cynic in you could easily point out a number of potential shortcomings – from using a marginalized culture for demographic baiting to Holly- wood’s insistence on having Indian actors portraying Pakistanis – in the new Disney+ series. And yes, it never quite reaches the heights of superhero offerings like the brilliantly offbeat WandaVision or the joyously irreverent Peacemaker. But it still does what no other television series has done before: put Pakistan on the superhero map, and not even in a negative way, which (especially if you remember those Urdu speaking supposedly-Afghan terrorists in Iron Man) feels like quite an achievement.

Centred on a Pakistani-American teenager (portrayed by the terrific Iman Vellani), the colourful, energetic series tells the story of a high school student who gains superpowers after putting on a magical bangle. Her adventure may often seem a bit lightweight, but it in anchored in the very heavy, all-too-real strife of the Indo-Pak partition.

It’s use of Pakistani touchstones – from music to traditions and beyond – is just as wonderful as its easily-lovable protagonist. (And yes, when Pakistani actors – Nimra Bucha! Samina Ahmad! Fawad Khan! Mehwish Hayat! – do appear onscreen, you can’t blame us for doing a silent little cheer every single time.)

Would it have been even more magical if Kamala made her debut on global big screens, like T’Challa and Shang-Chi before her? Definitely.

But even with a streaming series, it is still a joy to witness a drama that gives South Asia a moment to celebrate. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Kamala Khan. Plus Vellani is an absolute treasure, and it will be fun to see both the actress and the character become a (hopefully integral) part of the now-sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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