When Bisha K. Ali first expressed interest in “Ms. Marvel,” the project didn’t officially exist.
The British-Pakistani writer and now showrunner was working on “Loki” when she got off-the-record wind of the project, and insisted that the executive producer of “Loki” get her a meeting.
“I knew about Kamala Khan when I picked up the comics in 2014, before I was even a television writer,” Ali told IndieWire via Zoom on the day of the “Ms. Marvel” finale. “I got that meeting and that’s when it kicked off. I was like, ‘I want to do this. I want to pursue this as much as possible.'”
The “Ms. Marvel” writers room was packed with superfans, and one extra special guest even by Marvel standards: comics creator Sana Amanat, whose expertise Ali asked for specifically.
“She didn’t actually join the project until all the scripts were written,” Ali said. “She was really excited by what she read in the scripts and she [said] — the main storyline is absolutely not the comics — ‘Okay, I see what you’ve done here.’ All the writers were really excited once we brought her in, like, ‘Wait. Sana Amanat’s in the room?'”
Amanat was impressed with the generational bond between Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), grandmother Sana (Samina Ahmed), and great-grandmother Aisha (Mehwish Hayat).
“It’s not in the comics, but it’s in the spirit of the comics,” Ali said. “She saw exactly what we were doing and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s a testament to her and to her collaborative skills. It’s been wonderful.”
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
IndieWire: Can you share anything that didn’t make it into the show?
Ali: There’s like a 100 page draft every one of these scripts that no one was ever gonna be able to shoot; honing it down and getting us focused on the important things was a big part of why [Amanat] was there. There’s a whole massive backstory to the Red Daggers, way more backstory to the Clandestines, and also this whole other thread about the community center and gentrification in the area. At one point everyone was at the theatre club at school — lots of things were happening! We just delighted in these characters, and what’s exciting is so much of the audience have delighted in spending time with them too. The instinct was right, but we didn’t physically have the capacity to shoot everything I wanted to make. But I think we’ve got the essence of all those intentions down, and what we finally got into the show I’m quite proud of.
Especially in Phase 4, the MCU is constantly departing from comics.
It was really about the character journey that we wanted her to go on in the MCU. I knew that she was going to end up in “The Marvels” next year. I didn’t necessarily [know] what that was going to be, but I knew she was going to be alongside Captain Marvel, so she had to be ready for that. I knew where we’re starting in treating this character as a teenage girl without powers. That journey had to be serviced in a real way in six episodes. To do that, you have to break a different arc. Television is a different medium; adaptation is adaptation for a reason. The core of looking at what should we keep from the comics, what feels essential, was the character work: Who Kamala is and how she approaches the world and how she approaches difficult situations, how she approaches her family and how she approaches her friendships was all really integral in comics and we wanted to bring that to life.
The other piece [that] felt really top of mind in preservation is the look and feel of the comic books. Certainly at the beginning of the show, and sometimes at the end, you can see that we love those comics and wanted to put that on screen, make that really vibrant and joyful. So the guiding pieces were the characters and the look and feel as well — but again, it’s television and it’s an arc, so the look and feel of the show has to evolve with the character. If you’re making a choice it has to be rooted in character, otherwise why are we making the choice? That was really important to me that that evolution happens then you see it coalesce together in the final episode.
How did you come to land on that visual language, with all those pops of color and illustrations?
It started with the sequence when she tells Bruno how she’s imagining her plan of sneaking out of the house, to then executing it. It was clear to me and was clear on the page that this [is] fantasyland versus the normalcy of her everyday life. That was part of this thinking of [having] heightened elements in this show. There were conversations around what the world should look like, what the color scheme of her powers should be, things like that that I was so excited about. A year-and-a-half later, the directors came on board and they added their own creativity and brought that to life even more. It was really this snowball effect of all these creatives working together and getting inspired by each other, which was really cool.
I know that licensing music can be really challenging. Can you elaborate on that process?
I didn’t get to do clearance; it’s my dream to speak to Bon Jovi. The whole Bon Jovi thing worked out perfectly because they’re from New Jersey, but also because that was a gentle wave to my mum who loves Bon Jovi. That’s where it was rooted from. But I didn’t speak to any of the musicians directly myself. One that was really hard to get, not for any particular reason but it was hard to track them down, was the one that we’re using [in] the opening for the finale, which is called “Captain Space” by Janoobi Khargosh. I found that song and I was like, “I’m obsessed with this song we have to put in the show. Sana, how are we going to do it?” She said, “Bisha, I can’t find them to get in touch with them. Their socials are dead, I don’t know how to reach out.” The day that Sana finally did it she was so happy. That’s what I was really holding on for.
But you must’ve had a dream playlist.
It developed as we went along, because you also want to see what you’ve got, to see what you’ve shot and how it looks, then see how it all fits together. The thing that’s really funny that I didn’t have much input into but it was weirdly coincidental, is that at one point really early when we were writing the scripts, like year one, I was doing some work on Episode 6. I had played “Blinding Lights” on repeat while I was writing that day. It’s weirdly fateful that that became the anthem for the show before it came out. That’s a piece that felt very full circle to me.
I have to ask: Is Kamala in space right now?
I don’t know.
That’s fine and that’s what I thought you would say.
I don’t know! Who knows? She could be just downstairs…
Well, maybe you can tell me a little bit about the word we don’t use in the finale but about the mutation in Kamala’s DNA.
Thrilling, absolutely thrilling. All I can tell you is there is a mutation in Kamala’s DNA and [does a musical riff] that’s all I can tell you.
Would you say she’s maybe… inhuman?
I would say she has a mutation in her DNA.
The finale just aired and we have “The Marvels” coming up, but do you have dreams of Season 2?
I would be so happy for Kamala Khan to get to Season 2. I’m answering this genuinely: I have no idea if there will be a Season 2. I wish them luck with it if they go in that direction.
“Ms. Marvel” is now streaming on Disney+.