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Why Iman Vellani Being Cast As Ms Marvel Is Such An Important Moment

The world has been one giant shit show this past year, but today I woke up to some wonderful news: Iman Vellani, a Muslim Pakistani-Canadian 18-year-old, has just been announced as the titular lead for the Disney series Ms Marvel.

It was originally revealed by Deadline that Iman Vellani will play the American-Pakistani Muslim teen from New Jersey, and honestly this is the good news I’ve been waiting for.

I’ve been writing extensively on diversity lately, and particularly about how harmful the ‘woke by proximity’ tokenism of recent POC roles in Hollywood has been.

Just recently, I wrote a column on how I don’t even really want my ethnic representation on TV anymore, because I’d only really seen it done badly and it’s exhausting being subjected to the same toxic stereotyping of my people over and over again.

Iman Vellani has given me new hope.

You see, representation is a complicated thing, especially when you’re a Muslim, Pakistani-Australian hijab-wearing young woman like me.

When you’re used to only ever seeing yourself represented on screen as a terrorist, an oppressed victim who needs to be liberated by white men, or an object of male curiosity, roles like Iman’s are actually an act of resistance.

At 18 years old I was still photoshopping my skin to be lighter. I was using an Anglicised nickname and avoiding beaches so I wouldn’t tan into a darker skin tone than I already was.

I was still avoiding my identity, afraid of the way society would treat me if I embraced my dark skin and Muslim Pakistani heritage. I would get offended when someone asked my ethnicity, feeling as though it was something to hide.

At 18 years old, Iman Vellani is going to bring a fictional teenage Muslim Pakistani hero to life. She’s not only embracing her identity, but playing it on screen for millions of people like her to see.

Her work is going to mean the world to brown girls all over this planet.

Do you know what it’s like to only ever see heroes as white women or men who embody European beauty ideals? When I was kid, I would’ve given up my left arm if it meant I could be a blonde, blue eyed white girl. Not because I hated my culture or body, but because I craved respect, acceptance, belonging and admiration – and that’s simply something you don’t see brown people get. Not as a little brown girl in Australia.

Kamala Khan as a character didn’t exist when I was a kid. I wish she did. It sure as hell would’ve helped me not feel the need to bleach and scrub my skin raw, or be embarrassed of my ethnic name. But she’s here now, and she’s played by a brown girl who looks the part, and who I never would’ve imagined be a hero when I was younger.

Iman Vellani isn’t just breaking barriers for herself, but for Muslim Pakistani girls everywhere. She’s doing ground-breaking stuff, and it is my immense pleasure to witness it. Iman Vellani, if you see this, know that I’m here for you and with you – and so are a whole lot of brown girls who don’t have the platform to say it.

Image Sources: Marvel Comics, Twitter

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