Here’s What One Muslim Writer Had to Say About Muslim Representation in Marvel Movies
Disclaimer: This article may contain spoilers if you aren’t up-to-date with the entire collection of Marvel movies. You have been warned!
Forbes contributing writer, Anhar Karim, is a Marvel expert and writes articles of all things pertaining to his obsession with Marvel superheroes. While I may not consider myself a Marvel expert, I would certainly consider myself a super fan! That’s why it brought me such happiness to have the pleasure of interviewing the one and only Anhar Karim, to get his take on all things Marvel!
“Forbes.com is quite fun,” he starts off, the enthusiasm in his voice palpable. “I’m getting to cover stories I follow anyway, and getting paid for it. That being said, this isn’t a formal staff writing position. I am a contributing writer. Essentially, I write on my own schedule, and report on stories when I see them.” Sounds like a dream, and I tell him so.
He agrees, and if this sounds like something you would enjoy, it’s your lucky day because Karim discusses how he landed this gig: “I got the job by applying with writing samples and doing interviews over the phone.”
But what comes before that, I wonder? What can you do, academically, to put yourself on the right path? Karim majored in Religion at Princeton University, so he’s very frank about his opinion on the matter: “I don’t agree with the idea that what you study in college has to feed into your career. I studied religious studies because I found it interesting. Although I write for Forbes, it’s not my main job. My 9 to 5 is as a communications and policy associate at a non-profit in D.C.”
He continues with his advice for college graduates interested in writing for magazine: “Follow a beat you’re passionate about, and become an expert in it. Then, just start writing. There’s so many avenues to get published online now. Once you have work to show, start applying to places with your writing samples.”
“In Iron Man 2, there’s a horrendous scene of War Machine swooping in to ‘save’ those poor, mistreated, helpless women in burkas. While it’s not explicit, the implication is that they are robbed of their free will and it took an American soldier to ‘liberate them.’ So it hasn’t been great representation so far.”
Moving onto the topic of representation, I question how he feels about the limited Muslim representation in the superhero universe. Karim declares, “I’d like to see a lot of things from the Marvel cinematic universe, as a mega-fan. I follow the comics, but I’m not as engaged in them as I am with the cinematic Marvel world. As a Muslim writer, I’d definitely like to see better representation. As of now, there are very few Muslim characters, and most of them are negative. In Iron Man, Tony Stark is kidnapped by vaguely Arab/Muslim terrorists in Afghanistan.”
He continues, “In Iron Man 2, there’s a horrendous scene of War Machine swooping in to ‘save’ those poor, mistreated, helpless women in burkas. While it’s not explicit, the implication is that they are robbed of their free will and it took an American soldier to ‘liberate them.’ So it hasn’t been great representation so far. I’d be happy if there were a few, or just one really great, actively positive and nuanced Muslim character. I’d be happy if they made one of them a part of the Avengers! Kevin Feige [American film producer, and current President of Marvel Studios] has confirmed that there are plans to bring Ms. Marvel, a.k.a. Kamala Khan, a.k.a. this awesome Muslim superhero, into the mix. So I’m hoping that happens sooner rather than later.”
For those of you who don’t know, Kamala Khan is an American Pakistani Muslim girl living in Jersey City, according to Saladin Ahmed, an award-winning writer. Having acquired powers similar to Captain Marvel, Kamala Khan gets mentored by Captain Marvel and Tony Stark. She also gets some new powers that she discovers later on.
Circling back to the content Marvel Studios is currently putting out, Karim reveals that in order to prepare for the highly-anticipated release of Avengers: Endgame, he has put together a strict schedule: “I drew up this rigid schedule where I watch every movie from the beginning to end in the Marvel cinema universe, so that when Endgame premieres, I’ll have watched 22 movies. On top of that, I’ve been watching all these video essays, and reading pieces on Marvel’s narrative. The character and story work is dense, and there are some wonderful, intelligent commentary pieces out there. My top three characters are: Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther.”
When asked about which Marvel movie he felt was his favorite, Karim announces, with no hesitation, Infinity War. He continues, “The movie could have gone wrong in so many ways but it didn’t. It’s such an amazing feat in filmmaking that the people behind it were able to seamlessly bring together all these separate storylines, manage 30 major characters, and entertain the viewers.” On the other hand, Karim claims he wasn’t impressed with Thor: The Dark World, stating that “It was more like a cartoon, very sloppy, repetitive, and pointless. Iron Man 3 was equally bad.”
One thing is for sure, it would be tough to find someone whose passion for the Marvel cinema universe rivals Anhar Karim’s, and I, for one, am so grateful to know that Muslim writers are being given a platform to talk about topics that go beyond tokenizing them. After all, Muslim writers pushing to see themselves represented in the Marvel universe is surely the first step to seeing this aspiration come true.
(Edited by Muslim Girl Staff Editor, Manal Moazzam)