A month after "Ms. Marvel" was released and after a flood of negative reviews, the show is now the highest-rated Marvel project on Rotten Tomatoes — higher than "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Endgame."
Sana Amanat, the co-creator and executive producer of the Marvel Disney+ series and comics, said she wasn’t surprised by the initial backlash, which she also saw when the comics were first released in 2013.
“I think it comes from a place of anger and a sense that their identities are being threatened. If they can’t connect with it, then that’s OK. I just wish they wouldn’t try to put it down,” Amanat told NBC Asian America.
A wave of negative reviews was posted when the series was first released, criticizing it for its diversity and calling it too “woke” and “cringe.” Ms. Marvel was initially the lowest-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe series, with thousands giving the show one-star reviews — many of the reviewers were men over the age of 30.
Amanat said everyone at the studio knew there would be negative reactions to the show, but she was more focused on the positive responses, which have been evident across social media and in reviews since the first episode streamed on June 8.
Despite the negative backlash, representing a diverse teenager’s experience turned out to be the show’s superpower.
“It’s amazing to see how they’re internalizing that imagery. I just hope it gives them a sense of competency that, frankly, I didn’t have growing up, and a sense of connectedness inside of their culture and who they are because I think that’s incredibly important,” she said.
The series follows Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Pakistani-American teenager who is obsessed with the Avengers — especially Captain Marvel — and struggles to fit in at school and home until she’s endowed with superpowers by a bangle passed down from her great-grandmother.
Kamala learned her family has mystical ties to Islamic spirits, called “djinns,” and is being hunted by The Clandestines, a group of people headed by Najma — her love interest’s mother (Nimra Bucha) — from an alternate dimension. The group is searching for the bangle to open a gate to their realm and take over our reality.
The latest episodes show Kamala traveling back to India in 1947 as she learns more about her family lineage and steers clear of The Clandestines.
Amanat said the show, praised by many in the Muslim community for its representation, wanted to dive deeper into the characters than the comics did.
Online users appreciated the show for its accurate Islamic and Urdu phrases and nods to popular South Asian American culture, including the musical group Swet Shop Boys, calling out gossiping women in the community by referring to them as “illumin-aunties” and debating Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s best film.
Episodes show history of both oppression and strides for Muslim women
In episode two, Kamala’s best friend, Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), defied stereotypes in the show and ran for a seat on the mosque board.
“The biggest challenge is making sure that we represented the feminism and strong voice that Nakia specifically has,” Amanat said.
She said having Nakia join the mosque board also highlighted the fact that Muslim women, especially women who wear hijabs, are often misinterpreted as oppressed.
“It’s a lovely way of showcasing the mosque and Nakia’s role at the mosque, but also the larger context of it because so many people have such a specific point of view of what mosque life is,” she said.
The series also spoke to the magnitude of the 1947 Partition for many South Asian families who were forced to cross over the newly formed India-Pakistan border.
The event is pertinent in Kamala’s family and the bangle-possessing powers passed down to her as her mother’s side of the family left India on the last train to the city of Karachi.
“This was very much an idea that came out of the writer’s room,” Amanat said. The comics only lightly referenced the Partition with small vignettes and flashbacks but the writers saw it as an opportunity.
“One of my favorite things, when I came onto the show, was that this is the anchor point of the series, this idea of what the Partition has done to multiple families, but also what it’s done to women,” she said. “And how often, women are forgotten in stories of trauma, but also in the big story and big historical events. It’s the women who bear the brunt of the pain but whose stories are not told.”
The period of political unrest included an influx of gendered violence with thousands of women being abducted, raped and murdered. Many victims never spoke about their trauma.
Amanat said incorporating the Partition into the story created more depth in the relationships surrounding Kamala, like her mother Muneeba’s (Zenobia Shroff) relationship with her own mother, Sana (Samina Ahmad).
“The intention was to say, ‘Well, what happens to these women after that?’" she said. "The emotional disconnect, constantly searching for this place called ‘home,’" she said. "So I thought that was a really interesting way of telling Kamala’s identity.”