June 7, 2022
“I can’t wear a shalwar kameez to AvengerCon!” Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Captain Marvel stan from Jersey City, exclaims.
Her Pakistani parents have just presented her with a Hulk costume made from a repurposed green and purple shalwar kameez. The ensemble is a far cry from the red, blue, and gold Captain Marvel bodysuit Kamala has secretly been crafting. Skin-tight suits, however, do not adhere to the modesty guidelines of her family dress code. What’s worse is that her parents insist that her father — sporting a matching green and purple tunic set, complete with sewn-in abs and green face paint — chaperone her. As a fellow Pakistani American, the mortification and sheer dread that Kamala feels resonated with me deeply.
This scene from Ms. Marvel, which premieres June 8 on streaming service Disney+, is one of many that help audiences understand the life of Kamala Khan, who, amid her junior year of high school, gains cosmic superpowers. While Kamala may occasionally be embarrassed by her heritage (as is the case for many diasporic teens), in Ms. Marvel, culture and faith are in the foreground, where Urdu, South Asian customs, and Quranic passages feature aplenty. They’re even illuminated in the source of Kamala’s superpowers, which, in a departure from the comics, is a family heirloom bangle that her Nani has sent from Pakistan.
All of these choices deliver an empowering message to those in Pakistani and Muslim communities: culture and faith can make you exceptional.