'Ms. Marvel' Star Mehwish Hayat Praises Disney+ Series for Breaking Muslim Stereotypes (Exclusive)

For years and long before 9/11, Islam has faced sweeping cultural and religious stereotypes in movies and TV shows often propagating divisive narratives that Muslims are among a community to fear, and are not synonymous with American values. Touted the "most vilified group in Hollywood" by Jack Shaheen in his book Reel Bad Arabs, the academic scholar reviewed more than 1,200 depictions of Muslims in film and TV between 1896 to 2000 and discovered 97 percent of unfavorable portrayals through orientalist myths, racist demonizing and xenophobic paranoia. But while we are lucky to be living in a time where the world is actively progressing out of its fear-based echo chamber to prioritize empathy and inclusivity, there have been plenty of opportunities to take corrective measures in our acceptance of outcasts — most supportively through comic books, like those from Marvel with Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel.

There has never been a superhero quite like Kamala. Sure, she's your average teenager from Jersey City. But she also has shape-shifting abilities and is a Muslim girl with a lush Pakistani heritage. She attends mosque, her best friend wears a hijab and she celebrates Eid. As the Disney+ adaptation of the beloved comic books has since sparked critical acclaim and plenty of fan fervor amid its Season 2 renewal, series star Mehwish Hayat — who plays Kamala's great grandmother Aisha — tells PopCulture.com exclusively that she is proud of how Ms. Marvel is breaking stereotypes and shifting the narrative of who Muslims are and most importantly, what Pakistan is to the Western audience.

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(Photo: Marvel Studios / Disney+)

"For the last five to six years, I have been very vocal about how Muslims and Pakistanis have been misrepresented in the West and in Bollywood and wherever I went on any global platform, I made sure that I made my voice heard," Hayat told PopCulture. "I was talking about this issue and starting a dialogue because it's really unfair on this entire nation and people to be misunderstood because of the misconceptions that have been created around us. So [Ms. Marvel] was an answer to my prayers, literally, when this happened, because I've longed for this day, literally, to see us being represented in a more balanced and fair portrayal."

Praising the series as a "godsend," Hayat lauds the six-episode first season for "literally" representing the nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world. "And we have our first Brown superhero — Muslim superhero — that so many boys and girls, not just Muslims and Pakistanis and South Asians, but any girl can relate to Kamala Khan and her journey and learn so much from her," she said adding how the show also beautifully highlights the Pakistani lifestyle and the typical households that guide our lives. "All of those things that are being shown in the show must be so refreshing for the Western audiences to actually learn about us and see how we are just as normal as anybody else in the world."

While there is more work to be done in squashing the stereotypes, misrepresentation and tropes that compress the perception of Muslims and Pakistan amid the ongoing dehumanization in film and TV across North America and even India with Bollywood often producing propaganda films against Muslims, Hayat says the Marvel Cinematic Universe is off to a "great start" and one she hopes many people see works effectively to bridge communities. "How it has the ratings and the way everyone has responded, the fan base — it's just proof that people do want to know about our culture, about our people, because they had no idea about the Partition, about Karachi, about our food, about our music," she said. "There's so much that needs to be explored, and I think just one show is not enough. There should be more movies, more shows that need to be made to actually understand and represent our culture, which is so vibrant, so colorful [and] so full of life."

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(Photo: Marvel Studios / Disney+)

Sharing how the show has helped open a dialogue for audiences to learn about Muslims and Pakistan in a "very positive way," Hayat admits there are so many more stories that need to be told with so much that can be shown to the world. "This is a great start and people should actually pick up and really make more shows and films about us," she said adding how audiences for the first time also got a chance to learn about Eid — Islam's holiest celebratory holidays

Praising the show's authenticity surrounding Pakistani heritage, Hayat adds how it was done most beautifully. "I have so many people asking — Western people in the Western audiences — that, 'Oh, so we didn't know this is a festival that exists, and this is what happened,' so I think it's about celebrating our culture," she said, further crediting the entire production team and crew for bringing an empowering authenticity to the series. "We have a very significant and distinct identity and that needs to be brought to the fore."

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Ms. Marvel will return for Season 2 and its first season is now streaming in its entirety on Disney+. For more with Mehwish Hayat and all things Ms. Marvel, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.