Ms. Marvel Cast
Photo Courtesy of The Official Disney Fan Club
Marvel's First Muslim Superhero

Q&A with Iman Vellani, Kevin Feige, Sana Amanat and Cast on Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel is finally making her television debut and she’s already shattering expectations for your typical teen superhero. Kamala’s journey has been a longtime coming, since her fans have been following her story since she first appeared as a Marvel comic in 2014. As the first South Asian Muslim superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear that every detail of the show was an intentional choice to do her story justice.

Iman Vellani stars as Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel. The cast also includes Aramis Knight, Saagar Shaikh, Rish Shah, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Matt Lintz, Yasmeen Fletcher, Laith Nakli, Azhar Usman, Travina Springer and Nimra Bucha. Episodes are directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, Meera Menon and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Bisha K. Ali is the head writer. Sana Amanat is the executive producer and co-creator.

Muslim Girl sat down with the cast and crew of Ms. Marvel to hear what it was like to develop such a groundbreaking series. This discussion has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

MUSLIM GIRL: How did Ms. Marvel get green lit? What are your thoughts on how this transitioned from the pages to the screen?

SANA AMANAT: When [G. Willow Wilson] and I were crafting this comic about eight years ago, we joked about how it wasn’t gonna get past issue nine because no one was gonna care. And lo and behold, Kevin Feige is here, which is amazing, along with, of course, the rest of the world. The comic did really well. We had incredible runs. What I love about it the most is that it had people from different backgrounds and people that never really read comics before were showing up in comic shops for the first time because of what this meant and what it stood for. That is really the merits of the success of this series. And then, a few years later, when Kevin let us know that he wanted to make it into a show, I was thrilled. I also feel like it’s perfect for a live-action series. But I don’t understand exactly how and why. I think it’s because Kamala is pretty great.

[People] showing up in comic shops for the first time because of what [Ms. Marvel] meant and what it stood for … I think that is really the merits of the success of this series.

Sana Amanat

KEVIN FEIGE: Why not, I say. I mean honestly Marvel it’s such a privilege because not only are the re-interpretations every few years of existing wonderful characters, but every once in a while, and it does seem like every decade or so, there’s a new character that comes around that catches the audience’s imagination. This character clearly did that. As I said to some people on the red carpet last night, almost from the first few issues people started asking us in environments like this when we were promoting other things, “When is Kamala Khan coming?” “When is Miss Marvel coming?” So it always seemed inevitable in a great way that we would be able to do it. I want people who’ve never even considered watching a Marvel Studios production before to be excited to watch the show. (Jokes) And then go watch all the other ones.

Adil and Bilall, how does Ms. Marvel fit into your wheelhouse? Because it’s a little different from some of the other things you’ve done before.

ADIL EL ARBI: After we were editing Bad Boys for Life, we were saying, “What’s the next step?” And the next step had to be Marvel.

BILALL FALLAH & ADIL TOGETHER: Marvel, it’s the biggest in the biz! 

ADIL: And we were kind of joking around and saying, “If you’re gonna do a Marvel show, it’s gonna have to be a Muslim character” — knowing that it exists actually. So that’s how we discovered Miss Marvel and knew that they were going to do something about it, and we fell in love with Kamala Khan with her world and character. I mean, we are Moroccan Belgians. So when we were 15-16, it was like this identity crisis where we were searching for ourselves. “Where do we belong? Who do we need to be?” We were finding our place in the world. Are we Moroccan Muslims? Are we Belgians? And that is something that’s really relatable to the journey that Kamala Khan is living through. Then we met the great Kevin Feige, and we said, “Yo, we cannot not be part of that.” So that’s how we convinced them and, alhamdulillah, he gave us the great opportunity and chance to be part of this amazing project.

It does seem like every decade or so, there’s a new character that comes around that catches the audience’s imagination. This character clearly did that.

Kevin Feige

KEVIN: He said that they were coming off the biggest movie of the year. Bad Boys 3 was a big giant hit. Well reviewed. Well received. It was the biggest movie of 2020. Their name came up and I was like, “Why are they gonna come do a show for us? They could do whatever they want if it’s the next movie of the year!” And they did. You can see the passion; it runs throughout this entire show.

BILALL: It was an honor, a true honor to be part of the MCU. It’s a dream come true. It’s like the little kid comes outside. Sometimes we were like kids on the set that the producers were like, “Come here and direct!”

When we were 15-16, it was like this identity crisis where we were searching for ourselves … and that is something that’s really relatable to the journey that Kamala Khan is living through.

Adil El Arbi

ADIL: Ridiculing all the time! Sana helped us to focus.

SANA: It was a lot of dragging them by their shirts like, “Okay guys, the camera’s this way!” Them and Iman at AvengerCon actually were like a bunch of just kids running around—

ADIL: Playing with the toys and all that! Thank God for the focus of the producers. Being part of the MCU and doing it in such a way with the first Muslim superhero. It’s just beyond dreams. So I’m forever grateful, alhamdulillah.

Yasmeen and Rish, how did it feel to be in the MCU?

YASMEEN FLETCHER: I still don’t know. There are so many times I think, from the moment I got the call to right now when I’ve just been on this joyous autopilot and just living in every single moment. And like a lot of this cast, I’ve been a huge fan of the MCU for the majority of my life. I found a lot of comfort in the comics before I knew about the show. I was just grateful and so honored to play such a strong and empowering character who I truly wish I had to look up to on-screen while I was growing up. I think there’s a really beautiful scene in episode two that describes that feeling for Nakia where she says, “When I put this on, I feel like me!” And that is such a beautiful line and moment of identity — like this is not something to be ashamed of. This is not something that you should hide away from; this is what made her feel confident in who she was. I’m so honored to be the person to convey that.

RISH SHAH: So obviously, I was freaking out. I mean, the first toy I ever received from my dad was an Incredible Hulk action figure. When I was at university, I used to go to the comic shop called Forbidden Planet in London and I’d see the comics. When I found out this was happening, I begged to get into the room. I was basically crying.

Did the family dynamic in this series feel authentic and relatable for you?

ZENOBIA SHROFF: Absolutely, I mean, have you met South Asian mothers? They’re all like that. I think Muneeba Khan is, the real prototype of the South Asian mother: highly protective, very loving, kind, but very fierce, and will throw down when she has to. I just think in terms of the family dynamic, Adil and Bilall, we all got there about three weeks before the shooting began, and it was very organic. We had a few rehearsals, I don’t think anything was forced or pushed. As for Saagar, Mohan, Iman, and I, we have a baseline understanding of each other because we’re all born in South Asian households. We were raised in India [Zenobia and Mohan Kapur], but we have a baseline understanding of each other, which is very deep.

I was just grateful and so honored to play such a strong and empowering character who I truly wish I had to look up to onscreen while I was growing up.

Yasmeen Fletcher

SAAGAR SHAIKH: All of us being South Asian, I feel like we come with this “code” that we all just get. That’s just a foundation that we already had going into this. And so there was a lot less explaining that, “this needed to be done,” or a lot less learning about each other’s culture. We just didn’t need to do it because it was already there. We just kind of built on that, and it was a lot easier that way.

ZENOBIA: And based on that, I think we just quietly built it and built it, and then the writing — just the yin and yang of it. Muneeba became the Yang. She’s definitely the Yang. Yusuf became the more loving, straightforward parent, and it just sort of evolved very organically. But what you’re seeing is not uncommon for many South Asian households. I think we just created it very, very naturally. There was never a word exchange, “You do this,” or, “I do that.” Mohan and I, as Muneeba and Yusuf, I think created that very naturally, wouldn’t you say [Mohan]? Say yes (laughs).

MOHAN KAPUR: (Laughs) Gee, Muneeba!

This season’s music is a fantastic selection. What factors were taken into account when choosing the tracks?

BISHA: It was a vision of the energy and the tone that both Adil and Bilall and the entire crew brought to this show. You know, “How do we bring this character to life?” The music is such an integral part of it. Sana and I have been back and forth. And really, Sana had such a clear vision of what those songs should be.

SANA: Oh, thanks Bisha! I mean, I grew up listening to a lot of Desi music. This was kind of the moment I was like, “Oh my God, all of the songs I’ve ever loved.” There are so many great artists, I think South Asian diasporic music is probably some of the best music in the world. It was just a great platform. The studio and Kevin were so excited and gracious about hearing different kinds of music and celebrating that in the show. I had been curating a press playlist since Kevin called me to say, “Hey, do you want to join the show?” And I was like, “Do I?” I just kept adding songs and kind of pulling off of that. Our music team — with Dave Jordan and Shannon Murphy — really kind of dove in, and we’re excited about it. We really challenged him to get clearances on a lot of these songs. So I’m just really happy — and I feel like the music is a blend like Kamala is a blend—

I think the music scene in Pakistan is so vivacious. I would flood Sana’s WhatsApp with like 10 tracks and I would be like, “Listen to this! Listen to this! Listen to this!”

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY

IMAN VELLANI: The entire show is kind of about bringing together all the generations. And you know we have old Pakistani, old Bollywood, and then modern pop music — it’s just bringing together a lot of people.

SANA: And Sharmeen obviously introduced us to some great Pakistani artists — Ko Ko Korina in episode one—

IMAN: My dad used to sing that to me when I was a kid. I was like, “Why is it so familiar?” 

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: I think the music scene in Pakistan is so vivacious. I would flood Sana’s WhatsApp with like 10 tracks and I would be like, “Listen to this! Listen to this! Listen to this!” I think so much of that is in the series and it really does make you smile.

What makes Ms. Marvel special? What is the “it” factor that makes her stand out? 

IMAN: I think Ms. Marvel always understood fan culture on such a cellular level, and it just really elevated the storytelling in a really unique way. You know, she’s a 16-year-old kid with superpowers — fine! We’ve seen that before. But, she’s also a fan of every other hero within the MCU canon. That fascination and excitement associated with real-life Marvel fans, that’s why we relate to her. She reacts how we would when she gets powers! I love that part of her and that’s why I fell in love with her.

SANA: What was really fun about this was adapting the comic book design into something that felt like a super suit that felt very Marvel, but still authentic to what the comic did and to her heritage. We also updated the bolt design a little bit.

IMAN: Our wonderful costume designer, Arjun Bhasin had incorporated so many, you know, beautiful cultural prints into the fabric. And then we have the dupatta, which is the scarf.

SANA: If you look at the detailing, there are a lot of cool textures in it that Arjun incorporated that feel very South Asian in a very subtle way, and yet have that texture and weaving that superhero suits have. So, it’s kind of wild. Arjun, I think it’s the first costume we’ve actually done really in-house. Like, Arjun’s team did it. And he was like, “What am I doing? I don’t really do this!”

What was the process of developing this character for a series? Comic book fans are super loyal. They will know that there are slight differences between what’s going on in their pages versus what they might have seen in the trailer. Powers might look a little different. How is the Miss Marvel series different than the comics?

BISHA K. ALI: I think it was an incredible process. Having Sana around really felt like we could stay true to the character that’s in the comic books but still add something new, with a freshness, vitality, and contemporary edge to what we’re gonna see on screen. Every single person involved in this project loves those comics deeply, personally, and from their full hearts. We are all committed to that love. I didn’t walk up and say, “Hey, Kevin, let’s throw out the powers.” That was not my first pitch, by any means. That was really a group decision, talking through how she’s gonna exist in the MCU and how she’s gonna fit into this web of storytelling that Marvel Studios has done in live-action for the last decade, and then putting all those pieces together while staying true to this beautiful, incredible character that Sana and her team crafted, over on the publishing side.

SANA: It just means that if people are mad at us, they can blame me then (laughs).

Stream Ms. Marvel on Disney+ premiering on Wednesday, June 8.

Maliya Naz is a Pakistani-American journalist.