No reason brown girls can’t save the world


She’s not exactly hungry for validation.

On the contrary, Malala Yousafzai is a global icon. Since she survived being shot in the head by a Taliban thug as a 15-year-old Pakistani in 2012, she has met with heads of state, addressed the United Nations and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

So it’s saying something that this celebrated woman finds validation in a Marvel superhero. “MS. Marvel,” to be exact, streaming now on Disney+. On screen as in the comics, Ms. Marvel is a Muslim teenager named Kamala Khan, a high school student from Jersey City, the sweetly awkward, superhero-obsessed daughter Pakistani immigrant whose complicated life becomes exponentially more complicated as she gains the usual powers beyond mortal knowledge.

“It’s not every day,” Malala wrote on Twitter, “that I turn on the TV and find a character eating the same, listening to the same music, or using the same Urdu phrases as me. What a joy to see Ms. Marvel reflect the life of a Pakistani immigrant family…”

She linked to an interview with Sana Amanat, the character’s co-creator, who confided that her parents weren’t particularly pleased when they learned she was pursuing a career in comics. But since Ms. Marvel’s success, she said, her mother “has started going to the comic book store and buying comics herself. A Pakistani woman in her 70s walking into a comic book store. It’s just really funny.”

And pretty poignant too.

You may not get that. It may seem strange to you that a real life hero would make a fuss over a Marvel hero or that a Pakistani woman of a certain age would start visiting a comic book store. If the media has always reflected an idealized version of your culture, you may have little idea what it feels like when they make you invisible.

It’s like you don’t exist on some level. Or at least you don’t care. If so, wouldn’t they see you there? Wouldn’t your stories be told? As Kamala pointed out in the first episode of “Ms. Marvel,” “Let’s face it, it’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who are saving the world.”

Or the black girls. Or the queer kids, the disabled men, the Chinese women. Or at least that’s what the various media have long since implicitly proclaimed.

That some people are deeply embroiled in this lie is shown by the fact that three “Star Wars” stars – John Boyega, Moses Ingram and Kelly Marie Tran – have now endured racist barrages from alleged fans. And that Leslie Jones was briefly forced off Twitter by hateful reactions to her appearance in a Ghostbusters movie. And that NME, the British entertainment website, reports: “Ms. Marvel” was hit by a bevy of seemingly unfounded one-star user reviews on the IMDb website. It’s been called “review bombing,” a practice that NME says is “particularly prevalent on Marvel films with various lead castings.”

In fact, one reviewer complained that the show “literally aims to get Native Americans’ attention.” We will easily overlook the fact that India and Pakistan are different places.

Suffice it to say, some of us hate it when the invisible becomes visible. But if you’ve ever been invisible, you know there are few things stronger than being seen. If that need is felt by a Malala Yousafzai, imagine how much more it’s felt by a brown girl who isn’t a global icon. Imagine the psychic doors that need to open. Imagine how she must feel to suddenly learn the simple but revolutionary truth:

There’s absolutely no reason brown girls can’t save the world.


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