Jhe latest television show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe marks the on-screen debut of a new hero: Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel. The six-episode series, which premieres June 8 on Disney+, tells the story of 16-year-old superhero and Captain Marvel superfan, Kamala.. But it’s also about his Pakistani American Muslim immigrant family in Jersey City and how they deal with issues of identity and belonging.
Ms. Marvel stars Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani as Kamala and features appearances by Pakistani actors Nimra Bucha and Fawad Khan, as well as Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar. “It was very important for us to have authentic voices from Pakistan to play the characters,” says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Oscar-winning Pakistani documentary filmmaker who directed two episodes.
Kamala sets up the premise of the series in the first episode, telling her best friend Bruno Carrelli, “Let’s be honest. It’s not really the brunette girls of Jersey City saving the world. But as the show unfolds, it turns out that it is.
We’ve answered some of the biggest questions about Ms. Marvel.
Where does Ms. Marvel fall into the MCU timeline?
Ms. Marvel takes place about a year or two after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Newcomer Vellani is set to make her MCU big screen debut in Wondersa film slated for release in 2023 that follows superheroes Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel and Monica Rambeau, which was featured in Wanda Vision.
How are Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel related?
In the 2014 Ms. Marvel comics that followed the character’s first appearance the year before, Kamala grew up looking up to Captain Marvel, says co-creator Sama Amanat, who also produced the show. “She ends up taking his nickname because she wants to look like him so badly and she transforms to look like him and we have hints of that in the show as well,” Amanat says. “When Kamala gets her powers, what does she do? She tries to act like Captain Marvel.
In the comics, Kamala first appears in a storyline with Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel’s civilian identity, but is seen as a voiceless character in the background. Before becoming Captain Marvel, Danvers’ initial superhero nickname is Ms. Marvel, and shortly after Kamala’s first appearance, she becomes the new Ms. Marvel.
In the series, as in the comics, Kamala is also a big fan of the Avengers, and Captain Marvel in particular. The show’s pilot relies on Kamala trying to dress up as her favorite superhero at Avenger Con. While her parents initially shut down the idea, they later warmed to it, under certain conditions which she, as a rebellious teenager, chooses not to follow.
In the MCU, Captain Marvel is one of the few female Avengers. Amanat explains that Kamala’s fascination with Captain Marvel is particularly rooted in the fact that the elder superhero exploded through an alien ship and nearly took out Thanos, as depicted in End of Game. “That’s why she admires him so much and is like – oh I want to be like that. Superheroes exist in the world. Why can’t I be a part of it?” Amanat said.
How do the comic and the TV show differ?
The origin and nature of Kamala’s superpowers in the comics and in the series are noticeably distinct.
In the comics, Kamala receives her powers after being exposed to a terrigen mist, which gives her the ability to stretch and compress her body. In the TV show, the abilities seem to come from a mystical Pakistani bracelet. There’s a scene in which her arms stretch out – a clear nod to the comics – but she can also use her fists to shoot platforms, which she can scale, effectively walking through the air.
The bracelet unlocks the powers that were already in Kamala, says Amanat. “One cool thing the writers did was they linked the powers to something related to his past that we thought was very meaningful, and that was a clever way to talk about the empowerment metaphor and link it to heritage.”
This diversion of comics has sparked controversy among some fans. Vellani weighed in during an interview with Special effects magazine, saying she was less concerned with the technicalities of Ms. Marvel’s powers and more interested in her growth as a person. “I think we stay true to what the comics have brought. The themes have always been about identity and marrying the 50 million things that make Kamala,” Vellani said. “For all I care, she could pull sausages off her fingers, as long as she continues this journey of self-discovery.”
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige spoke with Empire Review why they changed his abilities. “We adapt the comics; it’s not an exact translation,” he said. “[Kamala] came at a very specific point in comic book continuity. She now enters a very specific period within the continuity of the MCU. And those two things didn’t match.
How it works Ms. Marvel to approach Muslim and Pakistani culture?
Pakistani audiences in particular will be familiar with the music, movies, fabrics and food included in the show. There are references to Baazigar, one of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s films, as well as popular songs by Pakistani artists, such as “Peechay Hutt”, musicians Hasan Raheem, the Justin Bibis and Talal Qureshi. “We’re finally letting the world know that it’s pretty cool to be South Asian, that our music, our food, our culture, our textiles are very, vibrant, rich and special,” says Obaid-Chinoy.
Being cool matters, notes Amanat, who is herself a Pakistani-American Muslim who grew up in New Jersey, just like Kamala. “You often see South Asians as nerdy math people,” she says.
Ms. Marvel was inspired in part by Amanat’s life experiences. When she created the character with writer Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona and editor Stephen Wacker, she wondered what it meant to be a Muslim girl. “Maybe you cover up, maybe you wear clothes a certain way, you have to be very aware of how you are with men and all these rules that go with it – I have a lot struggled with it,” she says. “I look at the world, and there are all these images that either don’t look like me or look like bad versions of me.”
With Mrs Marvel, she hoped that young Muslim women could feel seen, regardless of how they practice their faith.
Ms. Marvel isn’t the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel Universe. Sooraya Qadir, who appeared in the animated TV show Wolverine and the X-Men as well as a video game cameo, – is a member of the X-Men. The character was born in Afghanistan before being sold into slavery and has been criticized for his Orientalist portrayals.
Disney has announced that it will be planning Ms. Marvel in cinemas across Pakistan. “It’s an acknowledgment that this series is about you and a celebration of you and your culture,” says Obaid-Chinoy. “When you have local people telling the stories, it’s a very different way of telling stories.”
More Must-Try Stories from TIME