One of Marvel’s newest superheroes, Kamala Khan, is fighting the issue of underrepresentation for people of color and women in comics. In media, movies, and books, representation of women and people of color is lacking, leaving many little girls and boys of color left looking up to people who don’t look like them. Often when artists do try to create diversity in their work, their efforts lead to one-dimensional characters, increasingly perpetuating stereotypes. With few characters of color, children grow up thinking that because they look a certain way they are less capable of being successful or, in this case, being superheroes.
Marvel comics and Kamala are defying these expectations through the creation of genuine storylines that are relatable to all readers. Kamala is a Muslim teenager and a daughter of Pakistani immigrants growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey. According to the Marvel website Kamala has shape shifting and healing powers and “took up Captain Marvel's former identity, becoming the new Ms. Marvel. This up and coming hero works to protect her community and understand her place in the world.”
Sana Amanat, co-creator and editor for Marvel, was inspired to create the new Ms.Marvel by her own experiences as a Muslim woman growing up in the U.S. In a recent interview with Seth Meyers, Amanat mentioned that the mission of the new comic is “very much about breaking stereotypes and changing people's perceptions of Muslim-Americans.” Throughout the series, Kamala faces challenges during her teenage years while coming to terms with her faith and figuring out where she fits in.
G. Willow Wilson, during a 2014 New York Comic Con interview, explained: “I wanted her...to feel like a real girl. We didn’t want to make her a model minority and tell some sort of cardboard cut-out story... we wanted to show her with all of her flaws and all of her quirks.”
Marvel Comics has been a leader in the graphic novel world in terms of character diversity with its Runaways series and several powerful heroines. Regarding how to reach a wider, more diverse audience in a genuine way, Amanat shared: “That comes with the way that you paint your characters and that comes with, yes, diversity, but also with authenticity and by telling stories that are very true to who a human being is, not to who a black American is or a Muslim American. You have to sort of dig deeper and find out the heart of those characters.”
Even though the problem of underrepresentation or misrepresentation remains prevalent, it is slowly being corrected. This superheroine and her realistic portrayal is a stride in the right direction, giving readers from all backgrounds someone to look up to. Explaining the positive reaction to Kamala Khan, Amanat said, “People came up to me... and they said, ‘Finally we have a character out there, not just a superhero, that we can connect with...’ You don’t have to look a particular way to be powerful and to be a hero and that’s why it was so important.”