Forget about the release of Thor: The Dark World this weekend, we’ve got much more exciting superhero news. Marvel is developing a new comic book series around a character named Kamala Khan, a Muslim girl from Jersey City. Khan lives with her Pakistani family and has spent her life looking up to Carol Danvers, the superhero now known as Captain Marvel. When Kamala discovers her own powers, which include the ability to change shape, she chooses the name Ms. Marvel for herself as an homage to her idol. The series will not only feature Kamala’s superhero adventures, but also her conflicts with growing up Pakistani and feeling “different” from everyone else, as well as ongoing struggles with her family members, who each have different ideas about the kind of girl she should be. According to one of the series’ creators, Suna Amanat, “Her brother is extremely conservative. Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” The series will deal with how those desires might conflict with Kamala’s new role as Ms. Marvel.
The idea for the series came about as a result of Amanat telling another Marvel editor, Steve Wacker, about her experience growing up as a Muslim-American. The two recruited comic book writer G. Willow Wilson, who is herself a converted Muslim. The team says that they were inspired by the lack of female superheroes, especially ones with a specific cultural identity. They are anticipating a bit of a backlash, both from people who are Anti-Muslim and Muslims who are upset with the way the character is portrayed. However, they hope that people of all genders and ethnicities will be able to identify with Kamala, whose story Wilson says is about “the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are.”
Kamala’s presence in the comic book genre is important, as it marks another significant step forward in creating characters that are diverse and that reflect the experiences of people from different walks of life. We’ve seen Marvel’s comic books steadily become more diverse, giving the female X-Men the spotlight in a recent series, adding many ethnically diverse characters to the roster of the Mighty Avengers, and new series’ for She-Hulk and Elektra debuting next year, and of course, creating Miles Morales as an alternate-universe Spider-Man. However, while the books have been praised for becoming more inclusive, Marvel’s film and television output seems to only reflect the same white, male figures that have dominated comic book culture for so long.
Therefore, we’re hesitant to believe that Ms. Marvel is likely to make the jump to the silver screen even if her books become popular. After all, despite the recent renaissance of superhero films, Marvel and DC have yet to offer up a film lead by a female or minority superhero, despite fans — and even some of their stars, like Thor‘s Natalie Portman — asking for them. The only major female superhero presence in the films currently is Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow, who, despite playing a significant role in the Avengers series, is still relegated to supporting her male collages in films like Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
If DC or Marvel do manage to make a female-led superhero film, the two most obvious choices would be Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, two popular and culturally significant heroes. It would be easier to attract audiences to those movies than it would be for them to entice movie-goers to see a film about Ms. Marvel, even if she manages to have the same kind of popularity, but no progress has been made on translating wither property into a summer blockbuster, which lowers the chances that someone would be willing to take a chance on turning Kamala’s series into a film. Until the company becomes convinced that even their most well-known female superheroes are going to rake it in at the box office, there’s no way that they would be willing to take the chance on a newer, untested property.
Another factor that would likely prevent Kamala and Ms. Marvel from hitting theaters is the unpleasant reaction of comic book fans any time someone puts forth the idea of one of the superheroes not being white. When Marvel decided to reboot the Spider-Man film franchise in 2010, there was a massive fan uproar over the idea the rumors that Donald Glover might play Peter Parker, with many citing the comic books as the reason the character couldn’t be played by a black actor. Even after Miles Morales was added to the series in 2011, there was still a significant backlash over the idea that Spider-Man would no longer be the angsty, white teenager that fans had become accustomed to. Most recently, there has been a great deal of online complaints over rumors of a possible Fantastic Four reboot starring Fruitvale Station star Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm.
Although films like X-Men have featured minority actors, they have always been in minor or supporting roles. Anthony Mackie‘s take on The Falcon will be featured in the next Captain America film, but, like Black Widow, will only be present as a supporting player. There have been rumors and attempts to create features based around minority superheroes, like the Black Panther, but the conversation surrounding them seems to die down relatively quickly, and if studios are unwilling to take the chance on a male minority superhero, they will be even more resistant to the idea of a female one, which again diminishes the chances of ever seeing the new series made into a film.
Despite the major cultural significance of creating a series around a Muslim, female superhero, there’s still a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to turning such a property into a film. Comic books were designed as a way to empower and encourage those who were “different” by showing them people who reflected themselves doing extraordinary, heroic things, and so Marvel’s desire to continue that tradition should be applauded. However, their films and television shows are able to reach a much larger audience than their comic books are, and so the lack of female or minority presence is still disappointing. Hopefully, the new Ms. Marvel series will sell well, which will encourage the company to take a chance on adapting it, allowing her story to reach a wider audience of people who will identify with Kamala’s struggles. Just becuase it seems unlikely for Kamala to make the jump to film now, it doesn’t mean that it’s totally impossible, and we’re hoping that one day kids will be as excited to see the new Ms. Marvel movie as they are for Thor 2.