Is Priyanka Chopra the ideal choice for Pakistani-Muslim teenage superhero Ms Marvel?

Published: May 16, 2018
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While Chopra definitely has the acting chops to pull off such a job, she does not look the part. PHOTO: SALMAN ARTWORK (L)/MARVEL (R)

Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will be entering phase four of its production post Avengers 4, which releases in 2019. Only two movies, a Spider-man sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol III, had been announced for phase four, but recently, Kevin Fiege, president of Marvel Studios, while talking to BBC said that the studio was planning to introduce Ms Marvel to the MCU as well, and that the plans to do so were in the works.

Ms Marvel aka Kamala Khan is a teenage Pakistani-American superhero. She was first introduced in 2013 as a young girl, who was inspired by Captain Marvel (another female superhero who will get her own movie in 2019 and will play a pivotal role in Avengers 4), and soon realised that she too had powers that included healing and shape-shifting ability. Ms Marvel went on to headline her very own comic book which made Ms Marvel the first ever Muslim superhero comic book character to do so.

When Fiege said there was a Ms Marvel movie in the works, the superhero fanboy and the Pakistani in me were both excited. Getting to watch a superhero of Pakistani origin would not only be an exciting experience, but also culturally important as people will get to watch a positive and heroic portrayal of a Pakistani, which does not happen quite often in foreign cinema these days. This news had made my day, until I started going through some Twitter reactions to this news and saw that some fans wanted Priyanka Chopra to play this pivotal Pakistani-American character.

Chopra is no doubt a talented actress and she did a brilliant job in movies like Bajirao Mastani and Mary Kom, but playing a superhero convincingly is not an easy feat to achieve. Superhero castings are done with extreme care as these characters have been portrayed in a certain way in the comics.

Take Robert Downey Jr as an example; he and the character of Tony Stark as shown in the comics share quite the resemblance. Similarly, Chris Pratt and the character of Star Lord from the comics also have similar looks. It is also a fact that these actors are immensely talented and that adds to how believable they are as superheroes. Simply put, if you are playing a superhero, you have got to look the part. Chris Hemsworth put on a ton of muscle mass to portray Thor, Chris Evans did the same to portray Captain America.

While Chopra definitely has the acting chops to pull off such a job, she does not look the part. Firstly, Kamala or Ms Marvel is a teenager, a 15-year-old to be precise. Chopra, on the other hand, is 35-years-old, and although Marvel has used visual wizardry to de-age certain actors in the past, that won’t be an option here as that would require a lot of CGI shots. Also, an actual teenager would have the charisma and the energy to do justice to this character, which Chopra simply cannot.

If we look at all the Spidermans in the past, we can understand this predicament a little better. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield have played Spiderman in the past, and though both are exceptional actors and gave us highly entertaining superhero films, they didn’t look like Spiderman. Like Ms Marvel, Spiderman is also a teenager, but as young as Maguire and Garfield look, they could never pass for the high school kids they were made to play in the movies. This is why Tom Holland’s casting has worked; not only is he great, he actually passes as a high school teenager and makes the performance feel credible.

Secondly, Chopra, an Indian, playing a critical Pakistani character would be a disaster. A Pakistani teenage actor would be the perfect casting option as that is the character description of Ms Marvel. Not only should Marvel definitely cast a brown actor, it should preferably look at Pakistani-Americans for the role. Moreover, given the constant tension between the two countries, an Indian playing the role of a Pakistani will not sit well with certain segments of the audience.

Furthermore, people have argued about the difference it would make if an Indian was cast instead of a Pakistani, since we have the same features and belong to the same region. While that is true, it is not just about the way a character looks, but also about the true essence and representation of a Pakistani. Pakistan isn’t the most liked nation – we all know that – which is why we have far less representation than India in most things. A Pakistani-American playing the part of Ms Marvel will not only be a proud moment for the whole country, but will finally present a Pakistani in a positive light for a change. After all, we are all tired of Hollywood’s portrayal of Pakistan and Pakistanis (yes, I am looking at you Homeland).

The Marvel head honchos need to understand the significance of this character and realise that this could be the start of something beautiful, but one wrong casting decision would not only ruin the character, it will also leave a stain on Marvel Studios itself. These days, one decision of poor casting can lead to backlash and people boycotting films before they even release. Case in point: Ed Skrein resigning from Hellboy after it was revealed that the character is not actually white but was being whitewashed by Hollywood.

Marvel has always gotten the casting decisions right, so I have faith that the casting directors at Marvel won’t disappoint the character and its fans, especially Pakistani ones! One can only hope that someone of Pakistani origin could play this role.

That would be a dream come true!

Sahir Palijo

Sahir Palijo

The author is an under-grad pursuing a degree of Business Administration. He loves to write his thoughts and is a movie freak. He tweets at @The_Sahir (twitter.com/the_sahir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Muhammad Athar Shah

    Did you say “teenage”?Recommend

  • ABKhan

    A really bad choiceRecommend

  • Stupid Intelligent

    Priyanka is perfect for it. She’s a typical Punjabi woman who is modern and is quite popular in Punjab part of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Bleh

    We need a Pakistani actress to represent Pakistan. No will will tolerate an indian playing this role.Recommend

  • Nina

    LOL. “Also, an actual teenager would have the charisma and the energy to do justice to this character, which Chopra simply cannot.” Try harder. Priyanka is excellent choice. Age? Since when Marvel writers cannot be creative and have 2 phases of KK, young and all grown-upRecommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    Priyanka is very beautiful and an excellent actor but for a new Marvel character new face would be a better choice. I don’t care if that new face is an Indian or Pakistani, a Muslim or not. Priyanka is already an established actor, therefore Marvel character won’t stick to her as it would stick to a fresh face..Recommend

  • BrigidsBlest

    Sajal Ali or Mawra Hocane are much closer to the right age.Recommend

  • Ravian

    Better look for some “real” Pakistani. I would have suggested Mahira Khan, but since it is teenage role, it has to be someone younger. Priyanka is a bad choice, she is much older and has Indian look.Recommend

  • Rahul

    Hatred is quite apparent from Pakistanis as one of them mentioned her as Indian Hindu. What’s wrong with you guys it’s quite clear that she is way older to play that role but hating her for being a non-Muslim is extremely disappointing.

    You guys are perfectly fine with some western person playing a Pakistani but an Indian playing Pakistani just makes you lose your mind.Recommend

  • Sehrish Naseem

    Being a “typical Punjabi woman” doesn’t give her the right to be Ms. Marvel. If you have read enough, you will know that Ms. Marvel is actually a teenage Pakistani-American girl so it’ll be appropriate that the character be played by a teenage Pakistani-American & not by a 35 plus Indian woman.Recommend

  • Sehrish Naseem

    That’s actually not right. The girl who said Indian Hindu was wrong in saying it but I guess she was just trying to portray what she was feeling about fan reaction. Forgive & forget. Peace.Recommend

  • Sehrish Naseem

    No offense but are you serious or joking ? I seriously don’t want them to play Ms. Marvel ’cause I don’t want them to ruin the chance about Ms. Marvel clearing up Pakistan’s image. They can act in dramas may be, but a MC Universe movie is a big no.Recommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    Ms Marvel is pathanRecommend

  • Saadi

    A Pakistani-American should be represented by a Pakistani-American. Priyanka is not even an Indian-American since she recently moved to the US. You need someone who was born and grew up in the US to Pakistani parents to play the roll of Ms. Marvel.Recommend

  • The Bathman

    I think alia bhatt should play her.Recommend

  • ABKhan

    Oh yes a nation which kills it minorities just for eating beef will now give lectures on hatredRecommend

  • HeyAow

    Please no. We want a young Pakistani American to play this role. I’m sure that her character would be loaded with brown girl stereotypes (the term brown alone ignores so much of the diversity that people of Pakistani descent stand for), but we’re used to that now, and do not expect too much. Still, at the very least, they should make sure that the person playing that character actually looks and sounds like the “Pakistani American teenager” she’s portrayed as. Please don’t take away our identity from us by giving us the timeworn, overstated and exaggerated “you look the same” excuse. Because that’s not entirely true.Recommend

  • Hanna Abbasi

    She doesn’t even look Pakistani…so why would they make her play a Pakistani? That’s like hiring a Saudi to play an Iranian or hiring a Japanese to play a Korean. It makes no sense.Recommend