By Javier Romualdo
Los Angeles, Jun 15 (EFE).- A WhatsApp message marked a before and after for Iman Vellani, an avid comic-book fan who was studying for her final exams just a few months ago and had never before imagined herself as a Hollywood actress.
Her passion for comic books remains as strong as ever, but she now has the distinction of being the lead actress in “Ms. Marvel,” a new Disney+ miniseries that is the seventh television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
“I felt very out of place and uncomfortable because in my head I’m still just a fan who is arguing with random people on Reddit,” the 19-year-old Pakistani-Canadian actress said in an interview with Efe. “I still do that, but now I also have to make red carpet appearances. That’s weird. So I haven’t really processed anything. It might hit me soon. Maybe it already has.”
Vellani’s true-life rise to stardom rivals the plots that a Disney screenwriter might dream up.
“All this happened from a WhatsApp forward that my aunt sent me. And that was the casting call and I thought it was really sketchy, but I did it anyway,” she said.
“This was my first audition. I didn’t know how to do a self-tape. It’s crazy. But yeah, I went for it and I got called to LA for a screen test and then I did my last screen test over Zoom. And then I got cast on the last day of high school. So crazy, crazy year.”
The series’ executives apparently found in that self-tape audition everything they were looking for in their prospective Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, a female superhero who previously had only appeared in Marvel comic books.
In the miniseries, Khan, a Pakistani-American high-school student in New Jersey, writes super-hero fan fiction about Avengers heroes like Captain Marvel until one day she acquires her own unique powers.
In other words, Vellani essentially brings her own real-life story to the small screen.
In fact, long before the screenplay for the series was written, the actress would take photos of herself disguised as Ms. Marvel and share them with fellow comics fans on Reddit.
Vellani identified with the character for different reasons: both are Muslims who were born in Pakistan but were raised almost entirely in North America, are fans of comic books and need training to develop their skills.
In an attempt to offer a more diverse range of characters and move away from the stereotypical white, Anglo-Saxon superhero, Marvel introduces its first-ever South Asian, Muslim protagonist.
“Every time I see Pakistanis and Muslims in Hollywood, they’re either generalized into the one best-friend character or they just have no personality and they’re shown in a very one-dimensional, one-note tone,” Vellani said. “And I never related to any of those characters until I read those comics, and it changed my life.”
Although the main character is a teenager who grows up just outside New York City, the screenplay offers a look at the customs of people like Vellani’s relatives, who say “bismillah” before driving a car, listen to music in Urdu and still prepare their traditional recipes.
That culture survives even as the younger generation – Vellani and her peers – is drawn to American pop culture.
“I honestly felt quite disconnected from my culture growing up, even though I grew up with all four of my grandparents (and) I watched Bollywood movies when I was younger,” Vellani said. “I never saw this significance or the value, or thought it was cool enough. I personally just love Hollywood and I loved American pop culture and those two things did not go hand-in-hand. And now I’m a part of American pop culture.”
The young actress will reprise her role as Khan in the 2023 film “The Marvels,” which will serve as the sequel to the 2019 picture “Captain Marvel.” EFE