With the 6th printing under its belt, the new incarnation of “Ms Marvel,” Kamala Khan is clearly a giant hit. Its phenomenal reception has resulted in numerous articles praising its diversity and likeability.
“Changing shape doesn’t mean that Kamala erases her ethnicity, nor, in the way of Superman, that she is forever split between nebbish and overman. Rather, in “Ms Marvel,” shape-changing seems to suggest that flexibility is a strength. Kamala is a superhero because she’s both American and Muslim at once. Her power is to be many things, and to change without losing herself.”
This is the crux of why “Ms Marvel” works so well; she has intersections up the wazoo (a Pakistani-American daughter of immigrants, Muslim and female) but the character and plot developments are masterfully balanced between embracing her difference without erasing it or tokenizing it.
As a Pakistani-English daughter of Muslim immigrants, there are a few things about “Ms Marvel”that make her the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. There are quite a few great articles about why “Ms Marvel” is the bomb so I don’t feel like I need to do much in the way of talking about how great “Ms Marvel” is, but I’m going to give a shot at explaining why Kamala is so important.
The dinner table scene—Kamala has already been shown at home and with her friends. There’s no quicker way to humanize characters than to show their relationships at home and with friends. It automatically positions the reader on ‘her’ side and thus normalizes everything about the panels: their clothes, their food, their house, THEM.
“Ms Marvel” #1
The story here is not the ‘strangeness’ of what these people are doing, but exploring who they are and the plot. There’s enough there to make it relatable (to the white, non-Muslim, non-immigrant reader) with an argument at the dinner table about staying out late. The bit about seeing boys, thinking about Allah and the praying are specific to Kamala, her family and their religion. Differences aren’t whitewashed and they aren’t caricatures; they’re woven into the narrative, a part of who Kamala is, but not the sum total. To be quite honest, this is the scene that made me cry—I’ve had this argument with my parents because it’s almost a universal argument. Especially in the comics world—kid gets antsy, argues for more freedom, sneaks out. It’s as much a staple of comic book convention as Mary Jane staying dead, but the difference here is who is doing the sneaking out.
Marvel has had Muslim characters before, but to have a Pakistani-Muslim-American girl is goddamn revolutionary. Kamala sitting at her desk and questioning why she has to be different is central to her character development. I’m not used to seeing Pakistani-or, let’s face it, just brown characters. ‘Pakistani’ is not a cultural capital in the ascendancy, with most characters being terrorists, rapists, raped, or fundamentalists. The women are usually plot devices, if there at all, but here is a comic book from the foremost comics publisher with a brown girl as the hero. A brown girl that gets to struggle with normal teenager stuff (read: white teenager stuff) and her superpower is built on wanting to change how you look.
The final page of #1 with Kamala as white, blonde and tall didn’t have me worried the first time I read it. There were a few Tumblr posts about possible whitewashing or just complete confusion at the time of publication. But, I get it. I just get it. The plot of the first issue especially is one that I feel I have literally been waiting all my life to see (I have a tendency towards hyperbole, but, disclaimer: I mean it. In this post, I mean it all). Wanting to be white is written into your existence if you aren’t white and I still can’t quite believe that G. Willow Wilson went there.
Not including this comic series, exactly four media products have made me cry in the last few years (“Toy Story 3,” NBC’s “Hannibal” [out of disgust still counts], “Lucy” by Jamaica Kincaid and “The Dew Breakers” by Edwidge Danticat). So I’m not a frequent crier, but add “Ms Marvel” to the mix and I’m bawling anytime I go near it.
It’s a shock to see yourself represented, it’s a shock to see a character having a carbon copy of a conversation you’re continuously having with people and it’s certainly a shock to see yourself represented in a resoundingly positive manner.
“Ms Marvel” #2
“It’s almost like a reflex. Like a fake smile. Like I have to be someone else. Someone cool. But instead I feel small.”
If this comic series needs to demonstrate, amongst the funny scenes, heart-striking topic choice, well-rounded characters and carefully thought out plot developments, that it is actually well written and produced? The showing, and not the telling. Kamala’s polymorph powers underpin her whole identity, especially considering the fact that, at least initially, she is able to control them based on what she feels and what she needs. She FEELS small just hearing Zoe’s voice, but she NEEDS to save her because she’s a decent person. It’s not the most ground-breaking moment in the issue, but it is the most heart-warming.
The ground-breaking moment itself comes with Kamala quoting an Ayat (Qur’anic verse)from her Dad (which also happens to be my personal favorite, but NBD). Nothing I’ve come across deals as well with representing Islam within the context of the events of 9/11, the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the various sanctions against Muslims. “Ms Marvel” is, for obvious reasons, not the vehicle for blindingly positive representations of Islam but it still manages to isolate an inspiring, meaningful quote from the Qur’an in full knowledge of the context in which it is said. Compare that quote with the current push to have Muslims pre-emptively insist they’re not terrorists or sleeper agents of Islam. And here comes “Ms Marvel” with a well-chosen Ayat that not only demonstrates Kamala’s motivation to help but also that a Muslim only needs to prove herself to herself.
“Ms Marvel” #3
Sitting in a mosque, bored. Not everything is devotion to Allah. Kamala asking about the lack of segregation for women during the Prophet’s time is a recent development of Islam. Nakia, shown wearing a scarf and insisting on people using her full name, is just as bored as Kamala. The girls’ boredom has a reason – a middle-aged man lecturing two young girls about segregation is rarely going to have the desired effect. Their boredom, however, doesn’t mean they’re rejecting their religion or having a secular awakening. Instead, they’re demonstrating their appreciation of different interpretations of Islam as well as the reality that sometimes, it’s super boring to listen to Islamic lectures. Multi-faceted Islam is another innovative element of this comic; demonstrating that different interpretations exist is invaluable in the representation of Islam in popular media.
Kamala sitting in a high school changing room panicking about being able to control her own body is a puberty narrative for brown girls. Saz from “Some Girls” has her awakening sexuality as a prominent arc in season two of the show and seeing the classic puberty-superhero analogy with Kamala, as well as the don’t-be-like-your-mum (even literally) fears manifest are classic. I’m convinced that the song “Mere Khawabon Mein Jo Aaye” from “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” is another classic brown-girl-puberty-narrative.
“Ms Marvel” #4
Kamala uses a burkini as the basis of her costume. I have no point about the synthesis of Islam and immigrant life to make here, that shit is just straight up hilarious.
“Ms Marvel” #5
Something as simple as Kamala wanting her mum brings her mother into focus. She remains a side-character for our hero to bring to her life; this is an infinite improvement on the peripheral Muslim mother who either frets in worry for her sons or enables their terrorism. Kamala’s mother seems, until now, to be concerned and annoyed with her daughter – as any mother would be if their kid started sneaking out, wearing a burkini and emptying the fridge. Having Kamala frequently state what both her parents taught her fleshes them out as humans. That seems to be a pretty standard writing 101 comment but, once again, context is key. Kamala’s parents aren’t demonized for their restrictions on their daughter; the fact that they are able to have the odd scene here and there in which they communicate with her and focus on building her character is not only excellent parenting, but excellent parenting from Muslim-Pakistani immigrants. How many times have you seen that happen before in any vehicle of the mass media?
Kamala’s realization that she needs to be the best version of herself, instead of a watered-down one of someone else is a nugget of parenting gold wrapped up in a comic. For me, great writing has shades and from where I’m standing the shades I can see make this specific panel a ‘representation matters’ message in action.
If you are Muslim, and an immigrant, or a second-generation immigrant, or brown, or a woman, or anything else that isn’t typically considered normative – it needs to be communicated in some way to you that you are valid and that you are seen. That is exactly why representation matters, so you can become visible.
I would have given anything for 10-year-old me to be able to read this comic and see myself staring back at me. Or, at least, 23-year-old me can see that and 23-year-old me is able to appreciate it. Kamala’s very superpower is a manifestation of racial issues, religious issues and, amongst other things, issues that come with being an immigrant. She gets to change herself into anybody or anything she wants to be and what she chooses to do is suit up and save people because ‘good is not a thing you are, it’s a thing you do.’ I mean, can I get a woop woop?
“Ms Marvel” #6
Kamala is told by her father to visit Sheikh Abdullah for a ‘talk’ and she assumes that the Sheikh will lecture her about boys and advise her to stop lying to her parents. Instead, he says:
If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman. Courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect.
To depict a high-ranking figure sitting in the mosque with a young woman and telling her to trust in her own qualities is yet another representation that trusts in the individuality of the role. The Sheikh is not a central figure, but his influence is kind-hearted and well-meaning without patronizing Kamala or questioning her choices. Just as the Sheikh preaches caution without restricting Kamala, Kamala herself can think his lectures boring and also take his advice as a respected member of their community. These are not quirks or contradictions, but nuances. Such nuance indicates the depiction of people and that is something that is noticeably missing when it comes to representing Muslim, brown and/or immigrant people.
It’s impossible to give voice to someone, but it is possible to allow the space and time for somebody to be heard. “Ms Marvel” allows a different avenue for Pakistani, Muslim, brown, and/or immigrant people to be afforded the time, space and audience to be heard.
Other people who belong to any or all of those categories have been talking for a while now, but “Ms Marvel’s” very existence is changing the landscape of how Muslim people are represented and how we are seen. Kamala Khan is the vehicle for mass appreciation of the classic superhero trope – the humanity in the superhero is the compelling part.
Maryam Jameela lives in Lancashire, England. She graduated with a B.A. in English literature and an M.A. in gender studies. She is passionate about writing all things desi and will begin her Ph.D research into desi film and literature at the University of Sheffield, U.K. in the fall. You can read more things that she has written here.
For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.
“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.
This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.
Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long
Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
(What should I do?)
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
(After so long)
I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long
Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
(The same heart)
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
February 2, 2023February 11, 2023 7min readBy Arun S.
Kevin Wu, previously known as KevJumba, is an American YouTuber, from Houston, Texas, with more than 2.68 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 323 million views. His content consists of vlogs, social commentary, musical parodies and more. Wu also streams on Twitch and has released original music as well as freestyles. His most popular YouTube video is titled “Nice Guys” with Ryan Higa. Wu has also worked with many individuals including A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. He has also appeared in movies such as “Hang Loose,” “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” “Man Up,” and more. Wu is one of the first original YouTubers gaining popularity in 2008 and even had another channel, titled JumbaFund, now known as Team Jumba. Continue reading to learn more about Kevin Wu’s journey!
We really enjoyed the project ‘Underneath the Lights.’ On the track “WHY U IN LA” the lyrics, “Don’t know who I might be, it might surprise me. I could be a hypebeast, That’s nothing like me, It’s so enticing.” How do you feel this speaks to the idea of self-discovery? What have you learned about yourself, diving back into making content?
I love that song we did. The artist who sang those lyrics his name is Zooty. I really provided the energy and direction for the musical piece, but I give credit to my producer Jonum and Zooty credit for the lyrics. Both guys are a slightly different generation, gen-Z, whereas I grew up as a millennial. I find that I left a lot on the table when I left YouTube at 23, so when I work with gen-Z I have so much that I want to give. Coming back to YouTube this time around, it’s all about self-reliance. Coming from movies and television, you have to depend on people to get a better product. But with YouTube, I’m going back to my roots and putting my wit and effort into every part of the process again (writing, directing, performing, producing, editing). I want the result to be authenticity and a homegrown feeling.
When you started your YouTube channel you were known for your vlogs and social commentary. How do you feel about the new age of content creation — where content is in surplus but individuals aren’t feeling the content?
It’s hard to say whether or not individuals are or aren’t feeling content — the taste is just so wide now. It’s like living in Los Angeles; food is very competitive, and when picking a restaurant you have every ethnic variety and even fusion foods. I imagine opening a restaurant in LA to be very competitive and the attention to detail in what you make has to be authentic or hit a certain demographic. I feel on the Internet, YouTube does a decent job of catering to your sensibilities, the so-called algorithm. However, the personal connection you get with content creators has somewhat been shifted, and now it’s become more interest-based (ie gaming, how-to, music, politics, etc.)
How do you feel the original algorithm has changed, and what do you miss most about that time?
I don’t remember talking about algorithms back in 2010 to 2012. People watched their favorite Youtubers because their homepage included their subscriptions first and foremost, and then if your subscriptions hadn’t posted anything new, you would typically check the most popular page. Then trending became a thing and now you have algorithms generating your timeline based on a bunch of data. I think it’s forced creators to think externally and hanging onto identities i.e. what are my interests? Am I a gamer? Am I a streamer?
We parodied your music video for “Nice Guys” for our orchestra music camp skit back in high school. If Chester, Ryan, and you, had to recreate “Nice Guys” today, would you focus on the concept of self-love for the current generation? We also really loved “Shed a Tear.”
I definitely think self-love would be a very nice theme. Recreating it would be nice, actually. I think it’s hard to get three people to all be in the same room again, especially after leading different lives. But “Nice Guys” was something special for each one of us, and Chester See deserves a lot of credit because of his musical talent. It’s made me realize today the impact of music. I really enjoy the expression of music because it forces you to be more artistic, versus just saying what’s on your mind. Like poetry, or hearing harmonies.
You’ve worked with many individuals and groups in the past including, A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. If you could create content with any group of individuals who would be your dream collaborators?
At this stage in my life, I really enjoy coming back and rekindling those creative connections and checking in with previous friends or acquaintances. Doing a video with Ryan Higa, Jeremy Lin, Chester See, David Choi, Wong Fu, Jamie Chung, those would all be very fun. But the first step would be to just see how they’re doing. So that’s the closest thing to a best case scenario for me. I’m not trying to force any collaborations at the moment (haha!). Unless it’s convenient.
As an NBA fan you expressed you would like to talk more about basketball on Ryan’s “Off the Pill Podcast.” How do you feel watching sports and has playing sports helped you become more in tune with yourself?
After going through a lot of physical adversity after my car accident, reconnecting with sports has been really helpful. I played basketball for a while and I’d like to get back into soccer. I wanted to talk about basketball on Ryan’s podcast because I was still dipping my toes into Internet content/social media and didn’t want to talk too much about myself at the time.
As a content creator how do you balance not letting validation get to your head and authentically connecting with your audience?
We all seek validation. It’s innate, but it’s about where you seek it. Nowadays I remember to validate myself first, by starting with my mind and body. After a while, you can get a sense of when you need validation versus being totally unconscious of it. Sometimes that sense of validation is important, so we know to check in with our parents, or see if a friend needs positive feedback. To connect with the audience, that’s like number five in my priority list (haha!). Having an audience can be scary; you definitely want to be in tune with yourself first.
How do you deal with comments consisting of “I miss the old KevJumba?”
As live streaming has become a new form of content now, how have you enjoyed live streaming on Twitch for the Head In The Clouds Festival both in 2021 and 2022? We really enjoyed seeing Ylona Garcia sing “Nice Guys!”
It’s fun, I enjoy live streaming and I really appreciate 88rising and Amazon Music for inviting me both years to be the host for their livestream.
What was the decision behind putting your family in your videos?
I put my Dad in my videos accidentally; we were on a ski trip. I think people responded really positively in the comments, and then I just sat down had a conversation with him on camera, and it became a hit. After that he just became his own character. I think I tend to come alive more when I am interacting with someone on camera.
We really liked seeing you upload videos to Team Jumba. Is the mission still to donate earnings to a charity that viewers suggest?
At the moment, no. The Supply, which was the charity I donated to before, has since shut down. I also don’t make much money on YouTube anymore, since I was inactive on my channel for a while, so that format from 2009 will be difficult to replicate.
We really enjoyed the ‘KevJumba and Zooty Extended Play,’ specifically the track “With You in the Clouds” featuring fuslie. How has Valorant inspired your music as well as other forms of content creation?
The album was really experimental. I find the personal connections I made in gaming to be the most enlivening. “With You in the Clouds” was inspired by TenZ and, since he’s such a legendary figure in the pro FPS community, we had to do a worthy tribute. I think paying tribute to the things you like is a really great way to think about content creation.
How do you feel your childhood experiences in Houston, and playing soccer, have shaped you to chase your dreams of acting? How have you enjoyed acting in comparison to YouTube?
I love acting. It’s a wondrous lens at which to see your relationship with others. I find that in studying acting, you are often really studying the human experience or the mind. It’s like learning psychology but you are on your feet, or you are reading great theater. Playing soccer and growing up in Houston don’t really contribute directly to why I enjoy acting, but I very much enjoy coming from Houston and thriving in soccer. It made me commit to something and seeing how consistently “showing up” can really ground your childhood and prove to be valuable, later in life.
How do you feel we can uplift each other across the Asian diaspora and unify to create ripple effects of representation?
I think listening is probably the best thing you can do. Just genuinely hearing about something, or someone, helps you really invest in them during that time that you are there. So I think that’s probably the first step.
What made you go back to school and finish your degree at the University of Houston in Psychology?
No one reason in particular. I was also studying acting at the time back in 2017-2018 when I completed the degree, so it was just testing my limits and seeing what I could balance. I finished it online.
What are your upcoming plans?
Just experimenting on YouTube for now. Making videos with my own effort.
Your first video was uploaded back in 2007 and was titled ‘Backyard,’ where you are dancing to a song called “Watch Me” by Little Brother, off of the “The Minstrel Show.” We also really enjoyed your video with Ryan Higa titled “Best Crew vs Poreotics.” Are you still dancing these days?
Yes. The body does what the body wants.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Nothing in particular. I try to let my mind flow when I answer questions. I may have jumped to conclusions before fully investing in some of the questions, so I apologize. If you are reading, I thank you for your time and patience. I also thank Brown Girl Magazine for putting together a vast array of questions that allow my mind to stretch and work out a bit. I hope you find a stronger connection to your own truths, and I hope I did not disturb those in any way. Regards.