One thing Marvel keeps poking at but not fully committing to is making stuff for actual children. Sometimes they get close, with stuff like Ant-Man, the most family-friendly film they’ve made, but then the sequel kind of veers out of those waters, or the Spider-Man: Homecoming, which feels very rooted in the high school experience, but again, by the conclusion of the trilogy has nothing to do with Peter Parker being a student or a teenager or even a vaguely grounded take on a superhero. Generally, the MCU is aimed at adults, which is not to say that teens or younger kids don’t see the movies, et cetera, of course they do. But it’s not because any of this stuff is being made FOR them. Maybe that’s about to change, though, because the trailer for Ms. Marvel teases a show that is not only about a teenager, but FOR teens, too.
The trailer has a kind of John Hughes for the twenty-first century feel, if John Hughes movies had ever been about non-white kids. We see Kamala Khan (an absolutely adorable Iman Vellani) daydreaming her way through school complete with imaginary thought bubbles and fantasy sequences. There is a definitive YA vibe here that I really like, and the thing I like best about it is that it doesn’t really feel FOR me. Like, maybe I’m not the target audience for Ms. Marvel, which is fine! Moon Knight is for me, as is the other 99% of the MCU. But like Turning Red, just because I’m not the target audience, doesn’t mean I—or anyone—won’t find recognizable elements in the show and feel emotions because of it.
Let the teens have their own corner of the MCU, let’s really dig into what it means to be a kid swept up in this superhero nonsense. The Spider-Man trilogy never really addressed the fact that Peter is a CHILD. Let’s make one of these things to actually be about that world and that experience, to go from a powerless kid whose life is dictated by the adults around them to someone who can do…whatever it is Kamala is doing in the trailer. (They’ve changed her power set from the comics, and it’s not entirely clear what her powers are now.) This is a crucial part of Kamala’s story in the comics, where she is the rare superhero with a large and loving family. She can’t just run off to space whenever, her parents expect her to keep up with her schoolwork, and the Avengers are eventually accountable to her parents for managing Kamala’s superhero activities as, basically, an after-school activity. It’s a fun dynamic! And not one we get to see often, so I hope Ms. Marvel makes the most of it.
Not to mention that Kamala’s identity as a Muslim-American is also a major part of her story, and that is also clearly on display here. We get that Kamala is a superhero superfan, particularly into Captain Marvel. But we also see her in a hijab, at prayer in a mosque, and we hear her say her iconic line, “It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world.” I’m sure I’ll find people who are big mad that Ms. Marvel isn’t “for them”, and I bet I won’t even have to look that hard. But that’s okay! Not everything has to be about you! Or me! Some of it can be about teenagers and girls and Muslim-Americans! And the wonderful thing about storytelling, about this empathy machine we call cinema, is that a story can be about one specific person having one specific experience, and still, in some way, be about all of us, because we can find something of ourselves in each other, if we’re just open to seeing it. So let Ms. Marvel be for the kids, let it be for the daydreamers and the misfits, let it be for the brown girls. The rest of us can still find ourselves there, even if it’s not our face on the screen.
Speaking of empathy and Marvel and, by extension, their parent company Disney. Marvel issued a statement yesterday condemning the recent anti-LGBTQIA legislation that Disney whiffed on last week.
Let’s be clear, this is not indomitable bravery in the face of staggering odds. This is the BARE minimum means of supporting the LGBTQIA community, many of whom are employed by Disney and its subsidiaries, like Marvel. Meanwhile, employees across Disney have arranged a series of walkouts, a petition, and other collective actions to try and motivate Disney to do more for their employees. You can learn more about their efforts here.