Meet 'Ms. Marvel': Iman Vellani Talks Joining the MCU and Breaking Down Superhero Barriers

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The multiverse's newest hero made her debut on Wednesday, with the premiere of the new Disney+ streaming series, Ms. Marvel, a groundbreaking hero for the MCU in many ways.

Not only is Kamala Khan -- the teen-turned-titular superhero -- one of the youngest MCU heroes yet to be introduced, she's also Marvel's first Muslim superhero, a Pakistani-American girl who lives with her family in Jersey City. Plus, she's the ultimate Avengers fangirl.

"I think Ms. Marvel always understood fan culture on such a cellular level," noted Iman Vellani, the Pakistani-Canadian actress who makes her onscreen debut starring as Kamala in the series. "And it just really elevated the storytelling in a really unique way."

Ms. Marvel creator and co-writer Bishi K. Ali said that the series adds a "vitality and a contemporary edge" to the MCU, in part through animated sequences, earworm music drops, colorful culture, family banter and much more.

"She's a 16-year-old kid with super powers, fine. We've seen that before," Vellani said. "But she's also a fan of every other hero within the MCU canon. And that fascination and excitement is so shared with real-life Marvel fans. So that's why we relate to her. She reacts how we would when she gets powers. And I love that part of her. And that's why I fell in love with her -- culture and religion were never the main thing of her personality."

"It was just some part of her life, how it was for me," she continued. "It was just a normal thing. And we didn't want to make the show about a Pakistani Muslim. It was about this Avengers-loving, fanfic-writing dork, who just so happens to be a Pakistani Muslim. And I think we balance it quite well."

Vellani joked with reporters during the press conference that she initially heard about the Ms. Marvel casting call in "the brownest way possible" -- via a WhatsApp message from an auntie. She beat down her nerves and took her shot -- and now she's starring in a MCU series and planning to join Brie Larson in the upcoming ensemble film, The Marvels.

"I was like, my 10-year-old self is going to hate me if I don't even try," she recalled. "Two days later, I get a call. They're like, 'Do you have a lawyer? We want you to fly to L.A., and I was like, 'I have a math test, but OK!'"

The pandemic put a slight delay on the show's plans for a bit, but now it's nearly impossible to imagine anyone else stepping into Kamala Khan's shoes -- not when the role fits Vellani so well. 

"Her getting her powers and me getting this part went hand in hand, completely," she marveled during the press conference. "It's been a big part of my life before I even got cast, and so I'm just excited that people can finally see what I saw when I picked up those comics for the first time, and fall in love with Kamala and her world. It's so colorful, and... truly a love letter to all the MCU fans."

For Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige, a Ms. Marvel project was always a matter of when, not if.

"Every decade or so, there's a new character that comes around that catches the audience's imagination and this character clearly did that," he recalled. "Almost from the first few issues, people started asking us, when we were promoting other things, when is Kamala Khan coming? When is Ms. Marvel coming?"

"So it always seemed inevitable in a great way, that we would be able to do it," he added. "When Disney+ came around, it really gave us the opportunity to do what we really wanted to do which was tell her full story in six episodes and then have her then transition into a feature... I want people who've never even considered watching a Marvel Studios production before to be excited and watch this show and then go watch all the other ones."

Ms. Marvel
Disney+

The experience was also special for directing duo Adil & Bilall, who helm the premiere and season 1 finale.

"We were joking around and saying, if you're going to do a Marvel show, it's going to have to be a Muslim character, Muslim superhero, not knowing that it existed actually," Adil recalled during the press conference. "We fell in love with Kamala Khan; with her world, her character. We are Moroccan Belgium, so when we were 15, 16, we were also looking for our identity, our place in the world...We felt related to that identity crisis of Kamala Khan."

And for Vellani and the actors who play her onscreen family -- mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), father Yusuf (Mohan Kapoor), and older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) -- the ability to represent their real-life experiences in such an extraordinary story is invaluable.

"It's a wonderful story of a community that's so ethnically diverse and culturally rich and for me, coming from that region, I think it's fabulous," Kapoor shared. "The process of entering a mosque, the festivals, the wedding ceremonies, they're just so beautiful and... that side of the world, they just can't wait to see this happen."

"They see, 'This is us,'" he added. "The fact that if Marvel could run this juggernaut, it's a big thing for the rest of the world and other production houses... hopefully for actors, for writers, directors, for the entire caboodle to sit up and say, 'Let's do this. Let's show their story and not shout from the rooftops.' This is not a political statement. This is a story of one family, one girl, but it's so beautiful. It's the story of a family in a land that's not their own, but they've called it their home and that's beautiful."

See more in the video below! Ms. Marvel debuts new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.

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