Ms. Marvel‘s first season is almost here… and from what I’ve seen so far, I have thoughts.
It’s no secret that Ms. Marvel is a notable milestone for South-Asian individuals everywhere, but it’s mainly a momentous occasion for Pakistani Muslims. Ethnicity must be fully represented without erasure or cultural blending. We hope that the Pakistani and Muslim cultures are adequately defined for once in this already groundbreaking show.
Here’s the thing: South Asia does not only equate to India; it also equates to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Afghanistan. Many people forget that Pakistan and India are no longer one country, meaning Pakistan has cultures and rituals in its own right. Likewise, every south-Asian country has cultures and rituals of its own, that are different from the rest.
The media tends to frequent stereotypes in its portrayal of Indian and Pakistani characters. For example, the Indian family or character is your average local convenience store uncle, or they are the poster child for immigration success. Meanwhile, the Pakistani family or individual is always on the TSAs no-fly list.
But that’s not all the show can do, it also has ground to break stereotypes about Muslims. For example, I have never seen a happy, peaceful Muslim family represented. It’s either a passing remark about being Muslim, or it’s all they talk about. Ms. Marvel will hopefully allow us to see balanced Muslim lifestyles.
This may also be a good time to mention that not every Pakistani is Muslim. Geography can influence religious choices, but it does not equate to an absolute. So while I do appreciate seeing the Pakistani and Muslim cultures in a new light, I do hope that those who watch don’t start equating culture to religious choices.
Overall, we can only hope for a genuine showcase of Pakistani and Muslim life. We don’t want to see the general South-Asian inclusion labelled as Pakistani because each south-Asian country has its customs. Instead, I want to see a proper Muslim-Pakistani family and their captivating quirks.
Now let’s break down some of the good things… and some of the not-so-good things from the latest sneak peek.
WHAT I LOVE
First things first: Iman Vellani has my heart. She is a Pakistani-Canadian actress, and the definition of the Brown Come Up. She is putting Markham on the map, and she is everything. Moving on.
This comes from my own experience as a Muslim child, but the bargaining process is tedious. In the end, sometimes you wish you didn’t ask. Sometimes the compromise to get what you want is so far off the path that you don’t know if it’s worth it. My parents have bargained the sh*t out of things with me, and sometimes, I ask myself, “was it worth it?” But, unfortunately, most of the time, the answer is no.
This scene gave me second-hand embarrassment from how accurate its idea was. The mom worrying about distracting her daughter from her studies brings me back to the day when my parents would say, “we go to school to learn, not to do fashion or care what others think.”
Also, that little glint of hope in Kamala’s eyes before the compromise is an expression that most desi children had. However, that glint of hope morphs into suspicion as you grow up. So finally, the dad tagging along and the shalwar kameez that was turned into a Hulk suit really just hit the nail on the coffin.
Desi parents don’t try to embarrass you, they really don’t, it’s just they want to protect you so much that it feels suffocating at times. Many desi parents are firm believers of learning lessons from others mistakes not your own. So while the chaperoning and the outfit are a little embarrassing, they are true of many desi parents and their love for us.
As a desi child, I can tell you they calm down and even start pushing you out of your shell to prepare for the future. But, they just like to hang on to the idea that you’re still a kid for as long as possible.
WHAT I DON’T
First and foremost, the parents’ casting screams cultural blending. They cast two Indian actors to play Pakistani characters and called it a day. While many people may not see the harm in this, you must understand how frustrating it is because Pakistani and Indian accents are different.
Many people believe that the default accent when speaking English for south-Asian individuals is Priyanka Chopra. It’s not. Some people were taught in English schools, and therefore they don’t have a hint of an accent, and others have a rich, deep accent that can’t be falsified.
Furthermore, I understand that this show is one of a kind, and for this reason, they are trying to appease many south-Asian individuals, but this gets into the territory of erasure. You’re taking away the specifics to appease everyone. Many items mesh across the south-Asian culture, but some specifics need to be respected.
So casting Indian actors to play Pakistani characters takes away the authentic Pakistani personality and nature. Also, it takes away the genuineness that a Pakistani actor could bring to their character because of their experience. Pakistani actors can bring their upbringing, family dynamics, and many things they were taught to the table, enhancing a script.
Next up, let’s talk about “there will be a lot of haram there.” NO. MUSLIM. MOTHER. EVER. SAYS. THAT. Yes, my mother has outlined to me many times why something is not appropriate, but she has never phrased it that way. Not once.
The problem with using Haram in this way is that people will turn it into colloquial slang. Haram is a particular and religious word that can’t be used in an everyday context, and for them to throw it in there like that will spur a new tiktok trend.
Lastly, the dad’s war cry. For the love of all that is good, nobody uses “chak de phatte” in ordinary terms. At least, the Pakistani-Punjabi people who have spoken out about this have stated that it is not a term that they use.
Language is, of course, to one’s own, but again the colloquialism of it all. Using certain words out of the correct context, just so that it looks like there is more representation, only consumerizes culture. Taking words and making them ordinary is step 5 in the manual on cultural appropriation 101.
While I am thrilled to see Ms. Marvel, and I understand the appeal to a general south-Asian audience because this is our first south-Asian Marvel family, I hope that the show proves to be authentic in its Pakistani-Muslim depiction.
Many south-Asian people enjoy other cultures from the subcontinent because it is a melting pot with many similarities, and many of these countries used to be one. But we don’t want it to be so general that we erase the specs of the cultures we represent.
Some things are general across the subcontinent, and those are fine to include, so long as you include the specs of the ethnicity itself. For Pakistani people, it’s more shalwar kameez than saris, more Atif Aslam than Badhshah, more Lollywood than Bollywood.
While we enjoy aspects across the board, we know how to distinguish the specs. Ms. Marvel should also be able to distinguish the specifics of Pakistani-Muslim cultures and ensure that we are not umbrella terming an entire subcontinent into one show. After all, one day, we hope to have a superhero family for every ethnicity, so we shouldn’t do it all in one go.