Seeing someone who looks like you on screen is a life-changing experience. Unfortunately, it’s not the most accessible content in Hollywood. Shows such as Never Have I Ever and The Mindy Project bring a much needed perspective on the normal life of a Southeast Asian American, but they don’t show anything more than that. Quantico was the first action series I ever watched with a Southeast Asian woman — Alex Parrish played by Priyanka Chopra — as the lead. But the show failed to address the societal implications of Parrish’s race. Marvel Studios recently began centering Asian characters. Movies such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, with a majority East Asian cast, and Eternals, with heroes of all different backgrounds, have set a standard for the studio.
The newest TV show in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ms. Marvel, hits the nail on the head of understanding cultural nuance and representation. Episode one, titled “Generation Why,” was released June 8. The show stars Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan. Within the first few minutes of the show, I felt seen in Hollywood for the first time. We’re introduced to Khan’s dad and mom, played by Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff, and the way they needle her and give her unsolicited advice is extremely similar to my life. Khan is normal, as far as we can see, with her head lost in the clouds and fantasizing about superheroes. Walking through the halls of her school, she is the epitome of normal, almost blending in with the colors of her school and being ignored or harassed by everyone she sees.
During the first episode, we meet fellow Marvel fan and Khan’s friends Bruno Carrelli, played by Matt Lintz, and Nakia, played by Yasmeen Fletcher. After that, she’s hit with a lecture from her counselor, telling her that it’s her junior year of high school and she needs to focus, do more volunteer work and think about college. The scene cuts to Khan and Carrelli talking about AvengerCon, a convention about all things Avengers and the main plot point of the first episode. This is the first AvengerCon ever, and Khan and Carrelli were going to sneak out to attend. They talk about Khan’s mom, and one of the moments that stuck with me the most was when Khan said her mom thinks she’s “some kind of weirdo.”
As a child of immigrant parents, I’ve had a lot of interests my parents either don’t understand or don’t want me to have. Her words and emotions toward her mother and father feel just as complicated as mine are, which is something I have never really seen in Hollywood or Bollywood before. Plus, her mom saying, “Don’t be so dramatic, Kamala,” felt like I was talking to my mom. Khan discovers a bracelet in a box of stuff her Nani, her grandmother on her mother’s side, gives to the family for a wedding celebration. Her mom seems to be concerned when Khan pulls the bracelet out, taking it away from her very quickly. She accompanies her mom on a shopping trip, ending with the natural auntie gossip, where Khan is expected not to voice her opinion at all. There’s more relatable content, but there aren’t enough words to cover both that and the rest of the episode.
Khan finally works up the nerve to ask her parents if she can attend AvengerCon, and her parents eventually agree on the condition that she go with her dad and wear matching Hulk costumes her mom made. Khan, who had been working on a costume of her idol, Captain Marvel, is enraged and yells at her parents, calling them humiliating. It’s an impulse I deeply understand, but I know I’m getting old when I think her dad is more endearing than he is awful. She refuses to go with her dad, instead making a plan to sneak out to AvengerCon.
Khan steals the bracelet from the attic and gets to AvengerCon — with the customary mishaps in her plan — then puts on her Captain Marvel costume and adds the bracelet in as her final touch. Her arm begins to pulse with energy as what seems like a shield covers her whole body, and her eyes change color. While she is having photos taken of herself, she pushes her arm out, creating a massive crystalline slab through the bracelet on her wrist. She accidentally hits the massive Antman head, causing carnage throughout the event.
She and Carrelli escape and get back to the Khan’s home, where her mom catches her sneaking back in the house in costume and guilt trips her. The episode ends there, with a post-credits scene showing agents Sadie Deever and P. Cleary wanting to bring Khan in for questioning. Overall, it was a good first episode. I thought it waited a little too long to get to the apex of action, especially for a show with only six episodes. But I think showing her family and friends, along with explaining Khan as a person, was worth the delay in seeing her powers. My theories for the rest of the season include Nani being somehow involved or having held the powers before her and that one of the agents introduced in the post-credits scene turning out to be evil.