I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a stunning India-Pakistan partition scene in a Marvel Cinematic Universe. As an Indian it is the part of history and geography I never expected the US to care about that they’ll depict it in a movie or TV and for white American audiences it was something they did not even know or heard of let alone expect to see a depiction.
In Episode 4 of Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan, the Muslim woman superhero, is teleported to the night of the last train to Pakistan and sees all around her people gathering their things, holding children’s hands, bidding goodbyes and leaving forever. Back in Pakistan her naani says, “My passport says Pakistan and my roots are in India, we are claiming identities created by some gora firangs.”
Who would have ever thought US pop culture that was busy imagining stories of white males fighting aliens would do more to dispel the myth and prejudices against India Pakistan and brought these people closer than all the poets writers and intellectuals could do in so many decades. Ms Marvel not only shows how we are the same people and the borders between us are unnatural. No stereotypes, no over the top symbolism but measured realistic representation of Muslim culture in Ms Marvel.
Even the 40, 50 yr old white males from red states in US are saying it is the first time they see a Pakistan that’s not part of a terrorism plot and India that’s not just about Yoga. Marvel opened their eyes to a beautiful diverse culture beyond white America. Some of them are even history teachers, they studied Asian history but never heard about India-Pakistan partition. Most endearing thing is, many are apologetic about being ignorant, and calling out their own mass media and US education system for that.
A British Reddit users says they don’t even teach the partition or India’s freedom struggle as part of British colonial history which is quite shocking.
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The show has also opened fierce debates and angst about proper representation of the history of Marvel; the language of the subcontinent; the difference between Urdu and Hindi; and whether a show depicting Pakistan but using Bollywood songs is doing a conspiracy against the India and Hindus. The point that they are all missing is that its not about history or culture lessons, its about humanizing the things we either don’t know or don’t talk about, about celebrating diverse culture beyond white America. That’s all a show can and should do. Movies and TV series are not supposed to be political propaganda only a carrier of culture.
Marvel Studios should be commended for the commitment and integrity they have shown in hiring authentic artists from South Asia and doing this right. Thank you for the writing, for the music, and for the Biryani. Finally, US knows one more food apart from ‘curry’.