A casting controversy around the upcoming Disney+ show Ms. Marvel was the last thing I expected. But here we are. I took some time to try and understand the current situation and the “Fix Ms. Marvel” movement still going on. Here are my thoughts.
Fans of the Ms. Marvel comic book series rejoiced when young actress Iman Vellani was cast as the titular character for the upcoming live-action series. Seeing Disney/MCU cast a Muslim actress of Pakistani descent was amazing. Not only that, the creative team behind the show was revealed to be quite impressive, too.
But then, news about the rest of the cast appeared online and the “Fix Ms. Marvel” movement was born. The controversy gave rise to a lot of opinion pieces. And yes, said opinion pieces also included the usual folk who bring out the senseless “It’s called acting! Let actors act!” card while the reality about the closed doors actors from minority communities continue to face in Hollywood.
On December 7, 2020, Twitter user @MsMarvelNews shared a thread of tweets. The tweets revealed that actress Zenobia Shroff was going to play Kamala Khan’s mother Muneeba Khan, and Yasmeen Fletcher was to play Kamala’s friend, Nakia Bahadir (a Turkish Muslim who wears a hijab). The tweets also included more information, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Certain fans didn’t appreciate a non-Muslim Indian actress playing Kamala’s mother and a half-Caucasian Christian actress playing a Turkish hijabi Muslim. While such casting choices might not be a big deal to some, seeing the backlash from fans made sense to me.
@MsMarvelNews told me:
I brought up the point that Pakistan and India were the same country not so long ago to a friend of mine (we’re both Pakistani), and they pointed out that the cultures have developed differently because it was mostly less affluent Muslims in India who had to escape to Pakistan, and Kamala’s own grandmother had to travel there by foot, so Pakistani and Indian Muslim culture have developed differently over the past few decades. To treat these identities like they are interchangeable is really gross. Finally, Zenobia Shroff as well as Yasmeen Fletcher both have had roles at Disney, so it gives me the impression that they hired the nearest brown people for these roles and didn’t put time and effort into these castings.
Fletcher’s casting as a hijabi character brings up another issue, too. Actual Muslim hijabi actresses already have limited acting opportunities. And if those actresses aren’t even being considered for roles they’re perfect for, what are they to do?
The only hijabi actress that comes to my mind right now is Iman Meskini from Skam. So, shouldn’t a show, that’s all about Muslim representation in media, give a chance to hijabi actresses to play Nakia?
Going by how problematic media’s representation is when it comes to hijabi women, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fletcher was cast as Nakia because the Ms. Marvel show will have scenes where Nakia will need to take off her hijab or it falls off accidentally. Such an incident happened quite early in the 9-1-1: Lone Star series, where the hijabi character’s being played by a non-hijabi actress.
There’s also the issue of actual hijabi women being ridiculed for wearing a hijab and the hate they experience on a daily basis. How can Fletcher do justice to that as an actress?
Furthermore, being half-white brings in the issue of how Hollywood, apparently, will always find a way to add a bit of Caucasian to PoC characters appearing onscreen and making them be as close to white-passing as possible (more on that later). Shroff is also a fair-skinned actress when Kamala and her family are quite the brown-skinned lot.
The other thing in @MsMarvelNews’ thread was about actor Matt Lintz who is playing Kamal’s friend Bruno Carrelli. After seeing his Twitter feed, fans weren’t happy about how he had liked Tweets that supported Donald Trump. Why should the Ms. Marvel fandom support an actor who supports the politics of someone who is racist, Islamophobic, and xenophobic?
The backlash prompted Lintz to release a statement about how he doesn’t support Trump. Understandably, fans (even those younger than Lintz) didn’t appreciate how Lintz saying he’s not interested in politics displayed his privilege.
Concering Lintz, @MsMarvelNews told me:
As long as Matt Lintz doesn’t become inflammatory or hateful and treats the show with respect, I am fine with him remaining in the cast, but still, his mother’s an actress and he has plenty of opportunities. It’s strange to me that he would join a Muslim-centered show without wanting to talk about politics, and it makes me kind of sad that he might only see it as an opportunity to raise his own star power. You obviously can’t rule people out bc of their political party, but I think simply asking questions like “what does this role/project mean to you? Why do you think it’s important?” could’ve gone a long way in avoiding these problems.
Now, the final thing on that particular thread was the most serious one. It talked about 23-year-old actor Andrew Brodeur. Apparently, Brodeur was cast as Josh Richardson (Kamala’s classmate who would turn into a villain). Allegedly, Brodeur was expelled from his college following multiple Title IX cases with some people (including his victims) taking to Twitter to share their experience and talk about how Brodeur’s a sexual harasser. People also reached out to YouTuber Grace Randolph to share what they had gone through.
Of course, none of us would want such an individual anywhere near Ms. Marvel or other productions. As of writing this article, Disney/Marvel’s yet to release a statement about the allegations surrounding Brodeur (if he was even officially cast on the series).
Continuing with the casting missteps, it was confirmed that actor Aramis Knight will play Kareem, or Pakistani vigilante Red Dagger.
Remember how I talked about Hollywood adding in a bit of Caucasian to PoC characters? Well, try and explain to me how the heck did a character like Kareem, who was born and raised in Pakistan, ended up being half-white and very white-passing? At this point, I have to laugh. He looks more like Kamala’s white friend Bruno than Kareem from the comic book series.
Some fans are bringing up an interesting opinion. According to them, how would the Black community feel if a film like Black Panther (touting representation similar to what Ms. Marvel wants to do) had cast half-white actors in particular roles? It’ll be safe to assume it wouldn’t have been received well. It’s one of the reasons why MCU fans are waiting for a dark-skinned actress to finally play Storm/Ororo Munroe when she gets to appear in the MCU.
Now, to be fair, the Ms. Marvel show has been casting talent the fandom’s glad about. It was recently confirmed that Muslim actress Travina Springer has been cast as Tyesha Hillman, Kamala’s sister-in-law. While Pakistani-American actor Saagar Shaikh has been cast as Aamir Khan, Kamala’s older brother. Actress Nimra Bucha (well-known in Pakistan) and Azher Usman have been cast in undisclosed roles.
So, yeah, while there are clear missteps, I think we should also appreciate the good stuff? You can’t win it all. In a perfect world, the casting for Ms. Marvel would have been perfect.
Are you looking forward to watching Ms. Marvel (with a likely 2021 release)? What do you think of the “Fix Ms. Marvel” movement?
Let us know.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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