Ms. Marvel's Sana Amanat On Nurturing Not One But Two Versions Of Kamala Khan
Co-executive producer of the Ms. Marvel show and comics co-creator Sana Amanat explained the balancing act of adapting a fan favorite superhero for TV.
It's not unusual for the MCU to reinvent a character from the comics to suit its needs--but those hit most heavily with the reimagination hammer tend to be the oldest and most deeply entrenched superheroes in the stables. Of course, someone like Iron Man or Captain America is going to need a facelift moving from page to screen--there's just too much history and continuity there to wrangle for them not to. It's more unusual for Marvel's new characters to be given a major overhaul--the Miles Morales we meet in Enter the Spider-Verse is, with only a handful of minor exceptions, the same guy you would recognize from the comics, for example. The combination of built-in modern sensibilities and a lack of decades-long continuity just helps grease the adaptation wheels.
And then, there's Kamala Khan. In Marvel's latest Disney+ TV show, Ms. Marvel, Kamala was given her live-action debut--and with it came some massive changes to both her story and her superpowers. But, as a hero who was invented less than a decade ago, this makes her something of an anomaly. Thankfully, Marvel has an ace-in-the-hole to make sure these changes, atypical as they may be, run smoothly. Sana Amanat, Director of Content and Character Development at Marvel, co-created Kamala in the comics and has now been brought over as a co-executive producer on the show, giving her the chance to shepherd not one but two distinct versions of Kamala into the spotlight.
"[co-creator G. Willow Willson] has such a beautiful and distinct voice," Amanat explained to GameSpot during an interview, "It's really hard to mimic that, actually. What I learned is that if you're trying to mimic it too much--I think you have to just understand the essence of what Kamala is all about, which is wide-eyed and quirky and kind of stumbling into words and phrases--so mimicking Willow it might not necessarily work. Especially when you adapt it, it's going to feel a little too cheesy or saccharine, you know? Sometimes pulling words directly off the page can feel that way."
Amanat continued, emphasizing the importance of finding a way to keep Kamala as grounded as possible in this new live-action adaptation. "We really tried to make sure we grounded her, as like a real Gen Z kid, and at the same time tried to find a way to make her struggles not feel stereotypical. We've seen so many coming of age stories, right? So that was what we were thinking a lot about, making sure that it felt relevant to the modern age and also that [Kamala] was someone with a little bit of edge to her, but also retained some vulnerability--which thankfully Iman Vellani does so well."
The most notable changes to Kamala's character come in the form of her superpowers, which have been swapped out from the comics Inhuman-based "embiggening" (the ability to stretch and manipulate the size of her body) for a jewelry-based light-construct system that seems tied to Kamala's family history--though it's not entirely clear what that might mean or how that factors into everything just yet. And Kamala's family were yet another major piece of the puzzle in figuring out the adaptation, according to Amanat.
"Some of the early feedback we were getting was things like 'oh Kamala's parents are so strict, they're going to seem like very typical Muslim parents, conservative and strict Muslim parents,' but to us, they just seemed like parents," Amanat explained. "They're protective of their kid. And yes, there are those cultural nuances of assuming every party she goes to is going to be boys and alcohol--which is how my mom was--but my mom is a lovely person and she lets me do whatever in my life, it just comes from a place of protectiveness. And there's another layer [in our show] for [Kamala's mother, Muneeba] too, because of her experience with her own mother, which has created this disconnect. She doesn't want Kamala to be like her mother.
"We navigated [all of this] in the context of saying, 'yeah, okay, these things are going to happen,' there are cultural differences and those differences mean that [Kamala's parents] don't understand her, just like a lot of parents don't understand. It's just that their distinction is that there's a cultural layer to it."
Undoubtedly, the mysteries and changes surrounding Kamala's family, and the continued evolution of her superpowers, will be revealed as Ms. Marvel continues on Disney+. New episodes arrive on the streaming platform every Wednesday.
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