August 8, 2022

Ms. Marvel and the Power of Representation

By Ruth Nathaniel

Introducing Ms. Marvel

As long as Marvel continues to churn out the hits, I’ll continue to write about them. Every week I’ve been tuning into Ms. Marvel and diving into the entertaining origin story of Kamala Khan. Who is Kamala Khan? She’s a Pakistani-American teenager raised in New Jersey by a loving and protective Muslim family. She also recently discovered she has powers that allow her to harness light and energy, wield superhuman strength, and even transport into new dimensions. Talk about next-level growing pains! All of Kamala’s powers were activated when she wore a bangle gifted to her by her Nani. Of course, there’s loads more to Kamala’s story, but that is the incredibly brief summary of who Ms. Marvel is. 

Hearing Stories That Resonate With Us

I want to focus on the power of representation of Kamala’s origin story. As a Tamil-Canadian viewer, I’ve been moved at several points not only because I feel seen by mutual cultural elements between my own upbringing and Kamala’s but also because I know there is a group of people who feel represented by Marvel’s latest hero. Kamala isn’t supposed to be every single Brown girl in North America, and I deeply appreciate that. Having said that, her identity is full of intersectionality, and several episodes thoughtfully explore those intersections. The episode about her sneaking out of the house to attend AvengerCon with her friend Bruno, creating her DIY costume, and navigating her parents’ expectations highlight the tension many bi-cultural and first-generation kids go through. The Eid Mubarak episode showcases the dazzling outfits, food, decor, and personalities that make up the local Muslim community to which the Khan family belongs. Furthermore, it highlights the boldness of Kamala’s friend Nakia, as she aims to get the votes to be elected to the mosque board, enriching the viewer’s perspective on female leadership in the Muslim community.

Most recently, we were taken on the journey of Kamala’s great-grandparents, who were among the many impacted by the partition of Pakistan and India. The episode about the partition is heartbreaking in its honesty. It was a truly brutal act and rooted in Britain’s divide-and-rule policy; over 15 million people were displaced and up to 2 million died due to the partition. Kamala’s mother, Muneeba, staunchly refuses to talk about her family’s trauma during the partition. Still, Kamala’s older brother Aamir wisely says at the dinner table, “Every Pakistani family has a partition story,” acknowledging the importance of stories both said and unsaid. 

Telling Our Stories

The notion that every story, even those not yet shared, has its place in the greater narrative of the human experience is powerful. Through the introduction of Kamala Khan, a whole generation of viewers has the privilege of learning more about bi-cultural identities, the partition of 1947, and how one teenage girl in New Jersey chooses to embody her Muslim, Pakistani and American values as Marvel’s newest hero.

Similarly, in therapy, clients do the hard work of telling their own stories- often uncovering parts of the narrative that have been hidden for one reason or another. If you’ve ever been in group therapy or a similar setting, you know just how powerful it is to sit in a safe space and listen to the experiences of another human being. When we tell our stories in the richness and fullness they organically possess, we not only honor our experiences but also bring others into our world and increase understanding and empathy for each other. My hope is that we can all be emboldened by storytelling, and for many viewers, Ms. Marvel might be the inspiration to finally contend with the many layers that make up their unique human experience. 

If this piece resonated with you, and you want to process your story, I would be honored to walk with you. Give us a call about setting up an appointment today! 

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Articles by Ruth

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Ruth Nathaniel

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