Kamala Khan made her first comic book appearance in Captain Marvel #14 in August of 2013 before getting her debut solo comic run as Ms. Marvel the following February. For the uninitiated, Khan is Marvel’s very first Muslim character to have their own published series. Now, roughly seven years later, Ms. Marvel is also the first Muslim lead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following the indisputable popularity of the character, Marvel Studios made it clear that fans would see her brought to life with the same admiration and respect that the MCU gives all of its leading heroes, and it’s these special qualities that audiences are finally seeing within Iman Vellani on Disney+.
The casting of Ms. Marvel was arguably one of the most crucial decisions the studio has faced thus far, given the weight and cultural importance of the role. As revealed during the official Ms. Marvel global press conference, Iman Vellani was passed along a casting call by her Aunt at just seventeen years of age. Vellani originally thought it was a scam, saying “I don’t know what casting calls look like, but they were white pages that said: Ms. Marvel Disney+, headshot, and resume here.” That casting call turned out to be very real. “I sent in a very academic resume, the one photo I had of myself and they sent back the sides for the self-tapes… I knew exactly which comic books they pulled them from.”
A core part of Kamala’s character is her admiration of superheroes, specifically Carol Danvers of course. In the Disney+ series, her infatuation extends to the majority of the MCU superheroes fans know and love, so casting an actual fan of the franchise would only add more realness to the role. Luckily, Iman didn’t have to worry because she was already a longtime fan. “It’s been a big part of my life before I even got cast, and so I’m just excited that people can finally see what I saw when I picked up those comics for the first time and fell in love with Kamala and her world.” Swelled with honor and joy, Vellani could only describe the show as “truly a love letter to all the MCU fans’.
However, it’s strange to think that this outcome could have been very different had she given into her initial nerves. “I gave excuses for myself out of fear of failure. At 3 AM the night it was due, I sent in my self-tape. I was like, my 10-year-old self is going to hate me if I don’t even try. And two days later I got the call.” Vellani’s authentic portrayal as a young, optimistic superhero fan gives Ms. Marvel an edge above other MCU adaptations, specifically with making its high school leads “feel more in line with their ages in comparison to other similarly aged Marvel characters, capturing the awkward chaos of those teenage years.”
Believe it not, but Iman Vellani was in her senior year of high school when the Marvel Studios team called her for the first time and asked if they could fly her out for a meeting. “I was like, I have a math test, but okay (laughs). And next thing, I’m in LA with my dad. It was the greatest trip of my life. I was fangirling over Sarah Finn and Louis D’Esposito. I wanted to take full advantage of being in that room because I didn’t know if it was going to happen again.”
Shortly after, the Covid-19 pandemic caused global lockdowns, affecting the large majority of people’s professional and social lives. As a teenager preparing to move on to the next chapter of her life, Vellani was no exception. “The pandemic hit, and they sent me one email and were like, look, you’re very much in the running. We just have to figure some stuff out on our side.” I was then like, “I have to figure out university on my side.” In June 2020, I sent in my last self-tape and we did a screen test over Zoom. I got cast on the last day of high school.” Three months later, Vellani’s casting was made public and the rest is history.
Coming off the heels of the Middle Eastern and North African representation seen in Moon Knight, Marvel is breaking a whole new type of ground with Ms. Marvel, and it doesn’t end here. Following this debut season of the show, Iman Vellani will star alongside Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris in The Marvels. Directed by Nia DaCosta (Candyman), the sequel set for a July 2023 release will unite Kamal Khan with her superhero idols in a new cosmic adventure. Vellani will be trusted even deeper into the universe in a way that no actor has before, and Ms. Marvel on Disney+ proves that she’s more than ready.