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ABC News
ABC News
By Thuy Ong

Why Ms. Marvel marks an important milestone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Rish Shah says he hopes the characters on Ms. Marvel will make people feel seen. (Reuters: Mario Anzuoni)

British actor Rish Shah will make his debut on Wednesday in episode two of Ms. Marvel, Disney+'s new series.

If you've not seen it yet, the series centres on a 16-year-old girl with superpowers living in New Jersey who happens to be Pakistani-Muslim, the first in Marvel's Cinematic Universe.

The character of Kamala Khan debuted in 2014 in her comic book series Ms. Marvel and has since gone on to garner critical and commercial acclaim.

The first issue is in its seventh print run and is becoming one of Marvel's top-selling collections, according to the show's production notes.

The six-episode Disney+ series is a coming-of-age story that tackles the awkwardness of puberty, defying your strict immigrant parents, and navigating high school influencers.

Rish Shah's character Kamran bonds over Bollywood with Iman Vellani's Kamala. (Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Rish Shah, who plays Kamala's love interest, Kamran, makes his appearance in the second episode.

He says he can relate to the characters and hopes that people will feel seen.

"I think it took me a long time to think — and realise how cool it is to be proud of your culture," he told ABC News.

"It took me a long time growing up to kind of accept that it's cool to be Indian or Pakistani or South Asian in general.

Actor Rish Shah discusses cultural pride in new Marvel series Ms. Marvel.

From the moment Kamran appears on screen, Kamala is smitten. They bond over Bollywood songs and movies and Kamran offers her driving lessons.

Though Shah says Kamran is a mama's boy, his character still strikes as a mysterious presence on the show.

The series is a huge step forward for diverse representation in the franchise.

Kamala, played by newcomer Iman Vellani, also deals with the push and pull of family culture and Western society — much like two of the show's directors.

Adil El Arbi and Billal Farah most recently linked up to direct the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence film Bad Boys for Life, and Farah says there's a lot about the characters in Ms. Marvel to relate to.

"We're Belgian-Moroccan so we don't really feel Belgian, don't really feel Moroccan, certainly when you're 16 years old, you're trying to figure out who you are," Farah, who co-directed two episodes, says.

"Kamala Khan is between this American culture and Pakistan Islamic culture and seeing her, you know, being in high school, awkward, not knowing who she is and trying to find a way felt just like exactly my high school days.

Bilall Fallah, Sana Amanat and Adil El Arbi discuss new Disney+ series Ms. Marvel.

In the first episode, Kamala just wants to go to Avengers-Con with her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz), which is like Comic-Con, but the MCU version focuses on The Avengers.

She loves drawing and fan fiction about the Avengers, much to the chagrin of her parents.

"For us, it was just a lot of fun to show the different kinds of perspectives of the Muslim experience, just like of all of us," executive producer and co-creator of Kamala's character Sana Amanat says.

"We're all different and we kind of bring a little bit of ourselves to those stories."

While the show tells a universal story of growing up (all the while dealing with new superpowers), it's also an important step forward for representation and visibility in the MCU.

Iman Vellani plays a superhero-in-training torn between her family's culture and Western society. (Marvel Studios 2022: Daniel McFadden)

There are instances in the show typical of an immigrant family: there's code-switching (switching between languages between the parents and children within the same conversation), Khan's mother packs a bag full of homemade food for her best friend Bruno, and the tension in trying to grow up in a Western country while not disappointing your parents at the same time.

"It's a very youthful, hopeful, colourful show that not only is going to speak to all the Muslims in the world, but also just you know, have a universal appeal and everybody that's even non-Muslim can relate (and) can feel empathy for that and love that character," El Arbi says.

Ms. Marvel is significant in that it will hopefully open doors for more of these stories to be told in nuanced and meaningful ways.

"I feel like that's kind of what Marvel does really well, is sort of say that any kind of person can be a superhero, and they kind of are just like any one of us and I think we're kind of at the beginning of that and the MCU," Amanat says.

The show already has one famous fan in Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who wrote that it's "not every day that I turn on the TV and find a character who eats the same foods, listens to the same music or uses the same Urdu phrases as me."

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