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Pakistan audiences react to 'Ms. Marvel,' Marvel's 1st Muslim superhero headliner


Ms. Marvel, the superhero, has landed in cinemas in Pakistan. The title character is a teenager who lives in New Jersey with her Pakistani immigrant parents. NPR's Diaa Hadid went to the movies in Islamabad to see what audiences there think of their homegrown superhero.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: "Ms. Marvel" is a first. Kamala Khan is the first Muslim superhero to have her own comic. The first to have her own series.


EVA B: (Singing in Urdu).

HADID: Behind the camera, some of the directors were from South Asia, including Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who directed episodes four and five.

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: So for the first time, not only do you have someone on screen who is brown Muslim, but you also have the people behind the camera who are brown and Muslim.

HADID: She says "Ms. Marvel" is a celebration of all things South Asian.

OBAID-CHINOY: The textiles that we wear, the food we eat, the music we listen to.


ALI SETHI: (Singing in non-English language).

HADID: So to celebrate Kamala Khan's Pakistani heritage, the company released episodes one to six in cinemas here. There was a problem, though. The premiere was delayed. The censor board took weeks to check if there was anything insulting to Islam. And finally, "Ms. Marvel" arrived unannounced at our local cinema days before a big Pakistani holiday. So only a handful of fans turned up.


HADID: (As Kamala Khan) It's not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world.

HADID: Ms. Marvel is a typical Muslim teenager from the burbs. Her brother teases her before a big driving test.


SAAGAR SHAIKH: (As Aamir Khan) And remember to say Bismillah before you start the car. You're going to need all the help you can get.

HADID: Kamala Khan pleads with her mother to go to AvengersCon.


ZENOBIA SHROFF: (As Muneeba Khan) And even though it will be a distraction from your studies and there will be lot of haram going on there, Kamala, we have decided to let you go.

IMAN VELLANI: (As Kamala Khan) Really? Really? Really? (Laughter).

SHROFF: (As Muneeba Khan) Yes, but there are special conditions.

HADID: Kamala has to take her father. Her mother even makes them matching Incredible Hulk uniforms.


SHROFF: (As Muneeba Khan) See, Kamala? Big Hulk and little Hulk. Bara Hulk or Choti Hulk. Huh? So cute you all will look, huh?

VELLANI: (As Kamala Khan) Oh, my God.

HADID: Instead, Kamala sneaks out to AvengersCon, and there she discovers her own superpowers.


MATT LINTZ: (As Bruno Carrelli) What does it feel like?

VELLANI: (As Kamala Khan) Cosmic.

HADID: Episode one ends, and 17-year-old Hassan Burdi says "Ms. Marvel" is incredible.

HASSAN BURDI: Because it's finally us, like, Pakistani kids getting recognition. To show and share our identity with other people, it's, like, really beautiful for us. Because we didn't grow up with many brown superheroes or Pakistani superheroes at all.

HADID: What was your favorite character?

BURDI: My favorite character was Kamala herself. Her journey through her self, like finding herself and her self-identity is, like, really beautiful to me.

HADID: As we walk out, we meet another man who was watching "Ms. Marvel." He's in a hurry.

I mean, did you like the movie?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah, a little bit. (Non-English language spoken). Yeah, I came in the middle of the movie, and I was not focused.

HADID: OK. I mean, did you enjoy sort of like how Pakistani it was, you know, the Bismillah, the Quran, you know, the way...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken), absolutely. It was a good experience for all of us to see such marvelous things.

HADID: Maybe for some Pakistani teenagers, "Ms. Marvel" shows that even a superhero has to navigate her way through faith, family and growing up. For others, there's a joy in seeing Islam featured in a big Hollywood production through a good guy - or a teenage girl.


EVA B: (Singing in Urdu).

HADID: Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.