‘Ms. Marvel’ Represents

From Muslim weddings to Pakistani history, the Marvel show breaks new ground. But why is Karachi actually Bangkok?

The first four episodes of ‘Ms. Marvel’ were a little short on superhero action. But they were long on Pakistani and Muslim-American representation, which seems to be the show’s main purpose. Our hero, Kamala Khan, may just be a “brown girl from Jersey City,” but she also stands as an archetype of a culture long misunderstood in the West.

The show has featured, so far, an extended scene in a somewhat rundown mosque, including an invasion by rude government agents who refused to take off their shoes. There was also a Muslim street fair, featuring carnival rides, representatives of various community subcultures, and delicious-looking halal food. An entire episode centered around a Muslim wedding, including a delightful dance number that initially looked cheesy and choreographed but gradually just devolved into a bunch of people goofing around on the dance floor, which is what actually happens at weddings. When the bad guys inevitably invade the wedding hall, Kamala’s brother, the groom, makes sure to grab his cash gifts off the dais as he rushes out of the room. Very relatable.

Ms. Marvel
Kamala Khan watches over the tragedy of Partition in Episode four of ‘Ms. Marvel.’

Episode Four takes place entirely in the city of Karachi, Pakistan, where Kamala and her mother travel to visit grandma and, in Kamala’s case, to investigate the mystery of her power bangle, or whatever the heck that thing on her wrist is. The series lays the lore on thick, and then at the end, Kamala somehow travels back in time to the day of Partition in 1947. We see a heartbreaking, chaotic, and frightening scene at the Karachi train station. It was vaguely reminiscent of scenes from Holocaust movies, and it occurred to me: for these people, it was the Holocaust, or something close to it. At least a million people died during Partition.

It’s remarkable that Ms. Marvel is able to tackle serious historical topics in a show that is, essentially, a light coming-of-age comedy. And it’s not the first time a superhero show has educated about historical tragedies in recent years. Watchmen brought the Tulsa massacre into sharp focus. But Ms. Marvel is a completely different kind of show, without Watchmen’s pretensions or Damon Lindelof-branded non-linear timelines. It has a much younger, more diverse, and impressionable viewer base. Educating about Partition, and showing Muslim-American family life in a charming, nonstereotypcial, and most non-preachy way, is revolutionary for mainstream TV, and almost a public service.

Episode 4 also features a fun and exciting jitney and tuk-tuk chase through the narrow streets of Karachi. It makes Karachi look so fun and appealing, I found myself thinking, “maybe I should put Karachi on my travel list.” But then I found out that Marvel filmed the Karachi scenes in Bangkok, which is kind of like having Dallas fill in for Chicago. The two cities aren’t much alike. I’ve been to Bangkok, and it’s fun and exciting, just like the Karachi in Ms. Marvel. And what do you know? It is the Karachi in Ms. Marvel. Obviously, it’s cheaper and more accessible for an American company to film in Thailand than in Pakistan, which isn’t exactly a friend of the United States. If you’re going to represent, then represent. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Thai superhero. But that’s not this show.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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