Comic fans celebrate casting of Markham, Ont. local as Muslim superhero Ms. Marvel

TORONTO — In the wake of the news that a young actress from Markham, Ont., will be breaking down barriers in the world of superhero TV as Ms. Marvel, a Muslim superhero, local comic book fans are celebrating.

In Heroes World, a comic book shop that has stood in Markham for almost 20 years, Marvel fan Zahra Rizvi told CTV News she was delighted to hear that someone with the same background as hers will finally play a superhero on screen.

“It means a lot,” Rizvi said. “And now the women in my family, the little girls growing up, can see that, and I think it’ll make a big difference.”

Rizvi is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, just like Iman Vellani, the 18-year-old from Markham who’s been reportedly picked to play Ms. Marvel in a new Disney+ series, based on the breakthrough comic book character, Kamala Khan.

Deadline broke the news on Wednesday. Neither Disney or Marvel has officially confirmed the casting.

The character was first created in 2013, and was the first Muslim character to star in her own Marvel comic book. She has the power to alter her shape and size as Ms. Marvel, able to extend her arms and expand her fists to superhuman proportions in battle.

The upcoming show on Disney+ will mark the first time that she’s been portrayed by an actor in a TV show, although the character appeared recently as a central character in the Marvel Avengers video game that came out this month.

Andre Greenidge, one of the owners of Heroes World, says it’s all part of an overdue effort to add more diversity to the superhero universe.

“So people growing up, young kids, can say, ‘Hey, not only is that character cool, but that character looks like me and I can see myself in that character,’” Greenidge told CTV News.

After the news of Vellani’s casting broke, many celebrities tweeted out their support.

Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani American actor who stars in the upcoming superhero movie The Eternals, tweeted out, “I just saw they cast Ms. Marvel and legit got teary eyed.

“Congratulations Iman Vellani! Your work is going to mean so much to so many people, myself included. I can’t wait.”

Actress Mindy Kaling added, “What a joy in these trying times to see that #MsMarvel (a Pakistani American teen superhero!) has cast its lead role, a young actress named Iman Vellani! I can’t wait to see the show!”

She ended her tweet with a string of emoji hearts, and the hashtag “#RepresentationMatters”.

As the Marvel on-screen universe expands, it’s looking more and more like the real one.

Vellani is one of several Canadians recently cast in Marvel roles. Toronto’s Simu Liu will play Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Chinese superhero, in a film slated for release in 2021.

And Tatiana Maslany, who hails from Regina and is known for her Emmy award-winning run as the central character in the sci-fi thriller Orphan Black, is set to play She-Hulk in an upcoming TV series for Disney+.

“It’s great, especially at this time, just to see local talent coming from Canada,” Greenidge said.

For Rizvi, knowing someone from her town will be playing this pivotal role makes it even more special.

“I feel that’s wicked, because she’s local, and you just feel a little bit of a sense of pride,” Rizvi said. “She’s Canadian.” 

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