Jersey City is known by many for a lot of things: one of the most diverse cities in the country, the (debatable) sixth borough of New York City, the heart of Hudson County politics for many, and so forth.
But for some high school students and others, it’s the home of the city’s own superhero, Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, a Marvel superhero which they take great pride in.
“When I first heard about Ms. Marvel being this brown teenage girl, I thought it was really cool that we’re finally represented,” said Shreeya Shankerdas, a freshman at McNair Academic High School.
Shreeya and other students at McNair are part of a club called the Coles Kamala Korps, named after the school that Kamala goes to. “On top of that, we were represented in the Marvel Universe, and I thought that was really cool, because it’s a big company,” continued Shreeya.
They and the teacher that oversees the club, Holly Smith, have been longtime fans of Ms. Marvel, and they couldn’t be more excited for the debut of the Ms. Marvel TV show, the upcoming entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will be premiering on Disney+ in June.
Jersey City’s own hero
Kamala Khan is a Marvel superhero who was introduced in 2013, with the original comic book series being launched in 2014 by G. Willow Wilson, a New Jersey native, and drawn by Adrian Alphona.
In the comics, Kamala gets superpowers that allows her to shapeshift, and going by moniker of Ms. Marvel, she fight crimes in her home of Jersey City, all while balancing her life such as school, her family, and her identity as a Pakistani American and a Muslim American.
Since then, she’s become well-known and popular in the superhero fandom, and eventually a television series was announced for the MCU, with Iman Vellani starring as Kamala.
The students in the club got interested in Ms. Marvel in part from their shared backgrounds, both identity-wise and the school that they go to, with Coles Academic High School, the school that Kamala goes to, being loosely based on McNair.
“I was introduced to Ms. Marvel, when I was in eighth grade,” said Pariza Hassan, a junior who’s Pakistani American. “My teacher had the whole series in her library, so I was able to read through it, and I found out it was about my future high school.”
Many said that they can relate to the experiences that Kamala goes through. For Ayush Patel, a junior, what stuck out to him was the teenage perspective in an urban environment, similar to Spider-Man.
“We never really had to go through how religion can affect your perspective on what you do, right?” he said. “A lot of times of the comics, they showed that she had a big strain between who she was a superhero and who she was as person.”
The other part that he relates to is the the academic factor, especially when it comes to McNair, which is considered one of the most prestigious schools in Jersey City.
“It’s time[s] like that we’re just like ‘how would a superhero have time to go out and do anything, when you just have to stay in and read your books or understand your graphs or things like that?'” he said.
Smith, who’s also an alumni of McNair, said that the creation of the club was in concept for a long time, and that they launched it this year to build hype for the upcoming show.
“We’ve always done Kamala stuff, but the idea of a formal group that was actually planning things was newer,” she said. “Kind of in response to not just the show coming out, but also The Marvels is coming out next July,” referencing the upcoming movie where Kamala will also star in.
Since her introduction into the Marvel Universe, Ms. Marvel has been praised for the positive representation she brings for the Muslim American community.
Councilman Yousef Saleh, who’s Muslim American and another McNair alumni, said that the upcoming show is a critical point in TV culture. “We’re not really used to seeing people that are portrayed as heroes in any film,” he said. “Usually we’re portrayed as the bad guys.”
Saleh added that since 9/11, he felt that it was incumbent to himself to show that Muslims are members of the community and that are doing the best for community service, and for himself, he wanted to be the best representation by entering politics.
Pariza also said that she enjoys how a Pakistani character is represented on a big scale compared to other media, as well as how Muslim characters are portrayed.
“It can either be like, ‘Oh, the girls oppressed. Oh, the girls dealing with this issues’,” she said. “I really enjoyed seeing this new perspective on a Muslim character in a positive manner, especially from such a big company.”
With the days counting down before the premiere, the club is ready to spread awareness about Ms. Marvel and see how the show turns out. “I’m just really waiting to get the entire community at McNair and tell them ‘Look at this!'” said Barbara Gochis, a sophomore. “We want them to know about her because it’s important.”
“I’m excited that there’s going to be a Marvel superhero that is a Muslim woman that’s going to inspire the next generation,” said Saleh. “It’s about time”
Ms. Marvel will debut on Disney+ on June 8.