• Akshay Patel

79 years later and South Asians get their first on-screen superhero.

By Akshay Patel

Culture Reporter

Jet black hair, golden brown skin, under twenty and below five foot seven. That’s not the description of any typical superhero, but for South-Asians, it’s their first!

It's took 79 years and 93 superhero movies for South-Asians to get their first ever on-screen superhero, Kamala Khan aka Ms Marvel. It's been announced by Marvel Studios that the TV installation projected for 2021 will centre around a South-Asian, Pakistani American schoolgirl played by Iman Vellani.

But why did it take nearly a century for the movie industry to introduce a South-Asian superhero when more than 20 exist?

South Asia is the southern region of Asia and consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, making up nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

According to Official National Statistics, Asian British is the second largest ethnic group in the UK and is the fourth largest in the USA, the country’s fastest growing group. This concludes to over 1.9 billion people, making it the most densely populated geographical region in the world.

Despite this, in Marvel’s whole inter-galactic universe spanning over 12 years, with the likes of Hulk super-smashing through buildings, Spider-Man webbing his way throughout the city and DC giving an epic, culture defining battle between Superman and Batman, in total both Marvel and DC’s 93 movies, not one movie featured a single South-Asian superhero.

Although the introduction of Ms Marvel next year is a long-time coming for South Asians.

Are South-Asian creatives being forgotten for their talents?

A Twitter campaign called “I’m Here” is a short promotional video showcasing South-Asian creatives, reminding the industry that they exist.

Watch Here:

South-East Londoner Safiyya Ingar, 27, actor and cosplayer had previously auditioned for the role of Ms Marvel before Marvel had casted American actor Iman Vellani.

Safiyya had taken up stunt performing and voice acting to prepare and spoke about her excitement when she heard Ms Marvel was being considered for production.

“I'm that Muslim girl, that's me, I was the girl in these comics. I no longer needed to cosplay as white superheroes because there’s now one of me with my skin colour” she said.

She said that for many South-Asians they are either casted for one big role every few years or casted for nothing at all.

“South-Asians aren’t being casted for roles, the way white or black people are. They can be the extra walking by, they can be the person to open the door or be walking their dog, the barista, librarian, builder in movies. But for South-Asians, we need an agenda, we need to be type-casted so that we pass the ‘fit’ test, to fit the doctor, corner-shop or geek stereotype”.

'It’s not okay for white people to tokenise South-Asian actors'

Safiyya identified her on privilege in the industry. She found that casting directors would “prefer” her fairer light brown skin tone over actors who were a darker skin complexion.

“I have it easier than my dark-skinned sisters in this industry but like her (Wonder Woman), we’ll fight the battle (the industry) together.”

Superhero comics that date back to the 80s feature a wide variety of South-Asian superheroes that are all shades of brown.

For most people, the names, Timeslip, Dust, Indra and Omega Sentinel mean nothing.

For South-Asian comic fans these are just the names of some of the brown superheroes that are protecting worlds and saving lives, in comic form.

Shazleen Khan is an award-winning comic illustrator and writer and her illustrations focus on showcasing south-Asians as the main protagonists, solving crime, battling villains and saving the community.

As a self-confessed superhero super fan, she said: “The examples of south-Asian superheroes exist. Both Marvel and DC have already created them,they just choose not to showcase them and that’s what hurts, all they needed to do was put one in X-Men”.

“So many are losing out because of this, from the South-Asian actors that can play these roles, to the little brown kids who can look up to them and to the world to help provide positive examples and help challenge the Asian stereotype.”

In response to asking Shazleen why South-Asian superheroes are important.

She said: “it’s this idea of being the ‘chosen one’. For adults, superheroes are fake, but for kids they’re the world because they're the ‘chosen one’. People like you and I (South-Asians) we’ve never had ‘the chosen one’, we were never able to be exceptional or breaking boundaries and never had a visual representation of this, the one gifted with super talents.”

“Brown kids deserve that feeling too.”

Entrepreneur and travel journalist, Lavinia D’Souza, is a global activist for encouraging diversity in creative fields. In 2019, Lavinia spoke on diversity politics at the world’s largest international summit for creative talent, Audacity Fest, in New York City. In brief, diversity politics is the structural inequality applied to analyse the ‘differences’ amongst diverse group.

On the topic of south-Asian representation in films, Lavinia commented; “I’ve spoken to film creators and the issue is, they believe that by bringing up one ethnic minority group in one circumstance is enough and that they genuinely think the job’s done and that it’s enough.”

Lavinia is a strong advocate for more South-Asians to vocalise the lack of representation in these spaces, she commented “black people have been successful with this, that’s what we need, that passion, that fire, that willingness for a movement for change, not even a physical one but an ideological one, if that."

When asked about why’s she passionate about the topic, she said: “for our seat at the table, we’re on a booster seat and can barely see. We have to make sure for them (young South-Asians) that their seat is there and with their name engraved on it."

“Superhero storyline aren’t so black and white, they’re colourful with twists and turns, and so, why are we not seeing that…the colour.”

Up until this point, there’s been no South Asian representation in Superhero movies. We hope by Ms Marvel rocketing her way on streaming services next year, that this is only the beginning. With the door of representation in the Superhero universe now slightly open, that the next fifty years we see South Asians superheroes swooping in to give the Avengers team an extra hand or even the justice league a run for their money or in this case, their cape.

Want more on the topic: Take a listen to BBC Asian Network’s Podcast – Brown Boys Do It Too:

8 views0 comments