Ms Marvel Director Celebrates Pakistani Roots


Iman Vellani plays Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Disney+ show “Ms. Marvel.” Obaid-Chinoy says, “It

Marvel Studios is no longer alien to telling stories with different lead characters. With films like Black Panther, Shang-Chi and The Legends of the Ten Rings, and Eternals, the studio has strived to represent cultures from around the world.

Disney+ just released Ms. Marvel,” the six-part limited series that tells the story of a 16-year-old Pakistani-American high school student from New Jersey named Kamala Khan. Played by Iman Vellani, Khan is an Avenger fangirl who struggles to fit in until she learns she has superpowers of her own.

Iman Vellani plays 16-year-old teenager Kamala Khan in the new Marvel series Ms. Marvel.” Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

“MS. Marvel” takes an in-depth look at the family dynamics of South Asian culture in America and marks a new notch in Marvel’s roster of inclusive storytelling.

And a balanced mix of teen drama and superhero story, “Ms. Marvel” may not have sounded like a project lead that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy would take on. The Pakistani-Canadian journalist and activist honed her cinematic skills on graphic documentaries depicting the injustices faced by women in her home country of Pakistan. However, over the years she has developed a passion for telling stories for younger audiences.

“I wanted to tell stories that touch young people deeply and convey a strong message,” says Obaid-Chinoy. “And I wanted to find a way, a medium, that would do that.

She directed two of the six-part series, and the longtime documentary maker expresses a sense of pride and excitement about the series.

“It’s a dream to have the validation that your music, your culture, your food, your textiles, the vibrancy of your culture is being celebrated,” she notes. Since its debut, the series has received the highest score for a Marvel production on Rotten Tomatoes.

MS. Marvel is Obaid-Chinoy’s first live-action narrative. Before taking over the series, she was completing a computer-animated short film for Netflix called Sitara: Let Girls Dream. Ready for another project, her agents at CAA brought it to her attention that Marvel Studios is looking for directors for “Ms. Wonder.”

“So I threw my hat in the ring,” she recalls, and she met the show’s executive producers Bisha K. Ali and Kevin Fiege, and Victoria Tracconi, marketing and public relations manager. She presented her vision for the main character Kamala Khan/Ms. Admire what she would look like, how her powers would unfold, her family dynamics, and even the music for the series.

“For the first time, I felt like this was the right project for me to transition from one medium to another,” she says of transitioning from documentary to a narrative fiction format.

Obaid-Chinoy was hired and says, “Before I knew it, I was calling for action,” collaborating with Edil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, and Meera Menon, the three other directors who directed four episodes. “[I just looked] with the vision that they had and how they wanted to tell the story and kind of [took] in all their suggestions to scouting locations,” she adds. The series was filmed in Thailand, Atlanta and New Jersey.

“Animation was a natural step forward.”

Before embarking on the Marvel series, Obaid-Chinoy first encountered nonfiction in 2015 while filming the animated action film 3 Bahadur, or Tree Brave. It tells the story of three super-powered kids who save their town from an evil force. The Pakistani box office hit helped her get the gig to sing “Ms. Wonder.”

“The ‘Ms. The connection to Marvel is very strong for me because I think I’ve always told stories about ordinary people with extraordinary abilities. [‘3 Bahadur’] are superheroes in their own communities. They just don’t wear capes,” she says. “And Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, what she portrays aligns very well with the other characters I’ve filmed throughout my career, which is to show the world that you can be a superhero no matter who you are or where you’re from.”

Obaid-Chinoy was the first Pakistani to direct a computer-animated feature film. She wanted to tell stories for young people while maintaining a strong message and, after years of making documentaries, found animation to be a perfect medium to achieve this.

“Animation was something I knew I could say so much because of the medium,” she says. “So I suggested really strong themes in the trilogy I made [it] could bypass censorship and still entertain, still empower.”

Animation was a new medium for the documentary filmmaker, who had never studied film.

“I learned everything by looking at things online and talking to experts. Honestly, that’s how I became a documentary filmmaker,” she admits. “So for me, going from medium to medium isn’t a big change because I never had a formative film education.”

Oscar-winning documentaries

Obaid-Chinoy is best known for her work in documentaries, for which she won two Oscars. First, she received an Oscar with director Daniel Junge for her 2012 short documentary Saving Face, a film about Pakistani women who suffered acid attacks.

After winning the Oscar, she says, “Everyone was talking about this brown girl winning an Oscar and it was really surreal. But what really struck me is the fact that you can be anyone and you can come from anywhere, but when you really put out the stories that matter, there’s going to be people watching and there’s going to be a kind of celebration of that storytelling.”

Then, in 2016, Obaid-Chinoy received her second Academy Award for the biographical documentary “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” which tells the story of a poor young woman who is shot, thrown into a river, and narrowly escaped from an attempted ” honor killing” of her father and uncle in Pakistan.

A billion people watch as law is passed to stop honor killings in Pakistan

After A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness was nominated for an Oscar, the filmmaker met with then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ask him to push for a law to end honor killings in her country .

“I told myself that I have to pass this law. So I pressed the prime minister [to] showed the film what he was doing and it was broadcast live on our national television to millions of homes,” she says. “[Then] he gave that important speech that said, ‘There is no honor in killing a woman’.”

While touring Los Angeles for the 2016 Academy Awards, Obaid-Chinoy revealed that Sharif had promised to change the law, which “he later had to do because a billion people were watching,” she notes. “I’ve always believed it’s extremely important to ask, to push open doors, to get out somehow, and never underestimate the power of a determined woman.”

Obaid-Chinoy says her work as a documentary filmmaker is to create awareness of difficult issues. “It also means now that every time something happens, it doesn’t get relegated to the back pages of the news, it gets relegated to the front page, people talk about it, so that means there’s this sense of fear of violence against women. she agrees.

But despite recent legal advances, millions of women around the world still suffer from violence.

“It’s a very unfortunate reality to be a woman in today’s world where we have no control and no rights over our own bodies,” she laments, but remains hopeful as long as women unite. “The more women speak up, the more women carry the torch forward, the harder it is to continue having this level of violence against women.”

On the set of “Ms. Marvel,” she shares of how she had to bring some of her advocacy to bear even though there were more women working on this production.

“I think I made it pretty clear in my first week that I’ve built my career around telling men how to behave around women,” she says. “I don’t allow men to force me, and I certainly don’t allow them to tell me what to do and what not to do. Even those who tried, tried, were quickly told that wasn’t going to happen.”

Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan (left), Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia and Matt Lintz as Bruno Carrelli (right) in Ms. “There were a lot of women on the set of ‘Ms. Marvel,’ and I think I made it clear in my first week that I’ve built my career on telling men how to behave around women.” says director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

The Future: Between Pakistan and Hollywood

And now that she’s wrapped up her first live-action script production, her plans have expanded. “I’ve been a documentary filmmaker for 20 years this year and will continue to use documentary film as a medium, but at this point in my life I’m more drawn to telling stories through Hollywood fiction,” she says.

However, she does not want to give up her documentary film roots. “I’m going to tell stories that have an underlying theme or connection, or something that’s very meaningful in the layers of the story that you’ll leave with the movies or the TV series or whatever I create in the knowledge.” that there is a mission behind it.”

Documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland January 20, 2017. As a filmmaker, Obaid-Chinoy is a 2017 co-chair of the World Economic Forum and has also received seven Emmy Awards and a Knight International Journalism Award. Photo by Ruben Sprich/Reuters.

Obaid Chinoy was born in Pakistan. After high school, she came to the United States, where she completed her bachelor’s degree from Smith College and graduate school from Stanford University. She then divided her life and work between North America and Europe before returning to Pakistan in 2008, where she has been working and raising her family ever since.

“I think it’s so important for people like me, who can have one foot in the West and one foot in the East, to invest in the ecosystem for women so I can teach them film or work in films and more Letting women like me come out of it,” she notes.

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