Iman Vellani was a Ms. Marvel fan as a teenager. Now she plays it on TV.

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Iman Vellani remembers the exact moment she first saw a superhero in a comic book that looked like him.

Vellani fell in love with superheroes as a high school student in Markham, Ont., where her family moved from Pakistan when she was one. Many school days ended with a quick sprint to the local comic book store across the street, where she spent almost all of her monthly $20 allowance (and the rest was on McDonald’s). It was there that she developed a love for Iron Man, the Silver Surfer, and all things Marvel.

Iron Man’s devotion, the result of a crush on Robert Downey Jr., led her to the fifth issue of “Invincible Iron Man”, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Stefano Caselli. But it was the Pakistani American girl holding a peace sign on the cover that caught Vellani’s attention.

“It was like a comic book holding a mirror in front of me,” Vellani recalled to The Washington Post.

Vellani went from curious fan to expert in a flash, grabbing any comic book she could featuring Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. She was mesmerized by Ms. Marvel’s superpowered feats, while identifying with Kamala Khan, the girl behind the mask. Now, at 19, she finds herself starring as the titular hero in “Ms. Marvel,” which debuts Wednesday on Disney Plus.

“I didn’t even realize that the representation was something that was missing…because I had never seen it until I read these [Ms. Marvel] comics for the first time and got representation,” she said. “I was like wow, these comics are written about me, for me, and only me. And I really felt seen as corny as that sounds.

The teenage superhero debuted in 2013’s ‘Captain Marvel’ #14 before starring in its own series which began publishing at Marvel in 2014. It was created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and Stephen Wacker as part of the Marvel Comics initiative in the 2010s to develop a more roster inclusive of superheroes, including the Puerto Rican and African-American Spider-Man, Miles Morales.

Ms. Marvel superpowers include super-strength, super-speed, and shape-shifting, though they were changed slightly for the series. She has been a member of the Avengers in the comics and is featured in animations and video games.

“Cinema and [television] really shape how we see people in this world,” Vellani added. “With Marvel being one of the most accessible and popular franchises in the world, taking steps to strive to be more inclusive and create space for characters like Kamala to exist only sets an example for more more studios and more creatives to contribute and tell their stories. ”

Amanat, one of the creators of Ms. Marvel, was tasked by Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige helped head writer Bisha K. Ali produce the show. She got a call from the company’s famed casting director, Sarah Finn, saying Vellani’s audition was something special.

Ms. Marvel is obsessed with the other Super hero in the world around him — and Amanat said those traits came naturally to Vellani, who loved superheroes even when the cameras were off.

“She’s a super Marvel fan and she’s quirky and she’s funny and she does weird facial expressions like Kamala does,” Amanat said. “Like it’s just crazy how much she looks like the character. So it really felt like it was just meant to be.

Vellani was a big fan of Amanat, a Pakistani American whose real-life experiences helped shape the creation of Ms. Marvel. She read comics published by Amanat and watched videos where she talked about her work. A brotherly bond was built between the two on the set.

“It took me a solid year to believe that we have the relationship that we have,” Vellani said of Amanat. “I think she has the coolest job. She’s a Marvel fan like me. She’s brunette like me. She works at Marvel. It’s like the coolest thing ever…and she’s really been my biggest support system through this process because it can be really intimidating. And just having people like her makes it so much easier to get through it all.

Just as Amanat worked with writers and artists to ensure her own Pakistani culture was respected in the comics, she played a similar role on set, even going so far as to tie Vellani’s hijab in an arrangement. messy while filming a mosque. stage to reflect the look of a young Muslim girl who doesn’t wear one all the time.

“I think when you have these [authentic] voice behind the scenes, it makes the process, frankly, a lot easier, but ultimately a lot better,” Amanat said. “To progress, you have to inject change. And I think change is different kinds of voices.

The duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah grew up as Muslim Moroccans in Belgium, and directed the first and last episodes of “Ms. Marvel”, on the heels of their first major American theatrical success, “Bad Boys For Life”. from the 2020s. In Kamala Khan’s origin story of a Pakistani American Muslim girl from New Jersey just trying to fit in and be a teenager, they saw parallels to their youth.

“We were trying to explain our experience and how we lived it to Iman,” El Arbi said. “I think we really had a great connection in there. She understood what we went through.

Fallah, who became a Marvel fan thanks to the ’90s “X-Men” animated series, says he hopes Muslims and non-Muslims will see each other through Vellani’s performance.

“For us, it’s like a tribute to all the Muslim women in our lives,” Fallah said. “What’s so good about Kamala Khan is also that she’s a teenager trying to find her way. It’s a coming-of-age story. And I think the whole world, no matter race, gender or religion, will identify with her.As we connect to Peter Parker of Queens, we will connect to Kamala Khan of New Jersey.

Vellani brings the character back in 2023’s ‘The Marvels,’ a sequel to 2019’s ‘Captain Marvel’. In the comics and in her streaming series, Kamala Khan is a big fan of Captain Marvel, so Vellani starring in the sequel is a logical progression. Don’t ask her if she’s going to be an Avenger. Honestly, she doesn’t know yet.

“I can barely think of tomorrow. I just go where they tell me to go,” Vellani said. “If anything happens with this character in the future, I’m excited. But right now, it’s just that and ‘The Marvels.’”

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