It is rare to see South-East Asian representation in Hollywood. However, it is virtually unseen to have South-East Asian representation that does not allude to a racist and offensive picture. Representations of groups in media can make it abundantly clear that no South-East Asian perspective was included in making the media product in question.
Admittedly, media has a significant impact on all of us. It provides us with information, thereby giving us a sense of understanding of the world.
The media’s most significant power, however, is to give consumers a sense of what is right and wrong. It does this by cultivating biases in their thinking. Don’t get me wrong; the media can convey many positive messages. Recently, I saw an online episode of the Burka Avenger where the superhero tackles misinformation spreading in their village by the portrayed villain. It is a step in the right direction for children growing up in the digital age to understand these concepts.
Contrary to the educative message conveyed in the Burka Avenger, I have also seen a caricature of South-East Asian people by The Simpsons in its Apu character.
However, when Ms. Marvel was released, we had several reasons to be excited at the prospect of more realistic Pakistani and South-East Asian representation in Hollywood. It was the first time Pakistani and South-East Asian actors, artists and art creators came together to tell an important story. Ms. Marvel is the first time my generation has been able to see a depiction of the 1947 Partition of India, an event we all have family stories about, on television and the big screen (Ms. Marvel was shown in theatres in Pakistan).
If this is the point where you think you will see a “however” before I talk about the problems of the series, you are mistaken. I think the series is spectacular. The storytelling is unique in that it blends the many facets of Pakistani culture with a story that has elements of action, romance, and discovering one’s passion. The storytelling is combined with a great colour scheme which adds to the incentive of watching the series to completion.
Ms. Marvel allowed many veteran actors of the Pakistani film and television industry to show their mettle in Hollywood. Fawad Khan, Mehwish Hayat, and Nimra Bucha are all household names in Pakistan. Meeting the requirements of an action show is no small feat, especially whilst conveying emotions effectively.
Moreover, many up-and-coming South-East Asian music artists had their work featured in the production. Some notable songs include Pasoori, Jalebi Baby, and Peechay Hutt among others.
While the show was not shot in Pakistan, it did show snippets of Karachi to establish that part of the story was taking place there.
Ms. Marvel, therefore, established itself as a showcase of South-East Asian talent, ideas, and places. It made us feel seen.
But should we be satisfied with the portrayal? The show has undoubtedly given space to South-East Asia. However, there are contestations that the aeroplane scene of passengers taking out their luggage despite the contrary announcement was a form of stereotyping Pakistanis. Additionally, some of Kamala’s conversations with her family are unnatural and not how Pakistanis talk with each other.
It is important to remember that Ms. Marvel is just one form of telling a Pakistani story. It takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is the first of its kind, and there are bound to be some number of issues. Research on Partition and associated topics are still being done, with many conversations still taking place. The luggage scene could have been intended only for comic relief. Nonetheless, voicing your concerns and taking an active part in the telling of your stories is essential.
I think Ms. Marvel has left viewers excited. However, engaging in discourse and discussion will allow us to ensure the representation of more realistic, and by extension, more nuanced South-East Asian stories.