Marvel’s Sana Amanat On The Creation Of The Fearless Ms. Marvel

Image courtesy of Marvel.

The comic world is not a boys club anymore

In the world of comics, pretty much anything is possible. Although some of the best-known superheroes have traditionally been white men, it seems as though the super world (and its readers) are craving a different kind of hero. Enter Ms. Marvel, known to her friends and family as Kamala Khan. In our eyes, this character, a Muslim-American teenager from Jersey City, is one of Marvel's greatest successes.

We sat down with Sana Amanat, director of content and character development at Marvel, who is also a co-creator of Ms. Marvel, to ask her about her career path, how a comic book character is created, and why we need a girl like Kamala Khan.

Tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to Marvel.
I was a political science major at Barnard College. I thought I was going to be a journalist, thought I was going to be a lawyer, a lot of different things. But, I knew really that I wanted to work in publishing and I eventually went into magazine publishing for a little while. Then, years later, after a lot of different stints at different things, I ended up working at Virgin Comics, a small, indie comics company. That’s actually where I got my start and where I learned what it takes to build a comic from the ground up. After that company went under, I actually contemplated going into a different field, but I got to Marvel a year later. It had some really wonderful people who encouraged my participation and my voice. I love comics; I love the stories behind them; I love the format itself. I started off as an assistant editor and I moved up through the ranks.

Was there any hesitation or resistance from the company about the creation of Ms. Marvel, who is not only a girl but also Muslim-American?
We had a slow build in terms of having more female-focused offerings and titles. When I started at Marvel, we had maybe one or two [female-focused titles], and they were canceled fairly quickly after I got here, and then we didn't have any for awhile. I think the return of a female lead character was Captain Marvel. I think she was really the first foray into much more obvious female-focused content. I have been working on Captain Marvel since its inception and when we started talking about the creation of Ms. Marvel that was much more about the next level, the next layer of relatability among presentation. Creating a character that was reflective of the way the world is and the experiences people are having today was incredibly important to us.

When we first pitched the idea I had been working on the story for awhile before it officially got green-lit. When I felt comfortable enough to get it to a phase that I thought was good to share with the creative heads, the first response I got was that this is a classic Marvel story. It's a Peter Parker story about a young, awkward teenager just trying to fit in amidst their family expectations, trying to do good, and being conflicted between being the superhero and being the civilian. For us, that extra layer is the fact that she happens to be Muslim and South Asian.

Do you think the comic book world is hard to penetrate in terms of inclusivity and introducing characters that are not white men?
I actually think that the reality is comic space has been [supportive of diversity] for a long, long time. For example, X-Men is a story about growing up and adolescence, and it's a story about race and civil rights. We also had really strong minority characters, like we had Luke Cage and Black Panther, and Storm and Dust. For some folks, the reason I think that they're hesitant is because we are, quote-unquote, really messing with their boys and taking and changing something that is very, very sacred to them. We are trying to tell people that the ideas and the ideals that these characters represent are inclusive, they are for everyone and anyone.

I didn’t have a huge interest in comics growing up, but when I see a character like Ms. Marvel, I relate to her. She's smart, she's cool, and those are qualities I admire, and it’s interesting to see how they activate throughout the stories.
I didn't necessarily grow up reading comic books either, but I did grow up loving the aspect of cartoons. I did grow up reading Archie comics and Calvin and Hobbes. What I realized was that our content wasn't speaking to certain groups, like women, in the way that they wanted to be spoken to. It's really just changing the rendering a little bit, so it's more appealing to women. Again like Ms. Marvel, it is very much a Peter Parker story, in a high school setting with all the different drama and relationships and what not. I think that's a bit more female friendly and that's why a lot of people have gravitated toward it. Obviously, there is a spin there in terms of her own identity struggles and figuring out who she is, but I think that's why it’s told through the lens of a Muslim-South Asian-American girl. It's definitely a universal struggle that people go through.

Do you find that your experience at Barnard, a women’s college, and living in New York has informed the way you approach your career?
I think my university upbringing was really influential. While [Barnard] has a very small campus, it gave me more of a world view. I was living in New York City when 9/11 happened, I was a sophomore in college. In a lot of ways, you know, it took Muslim-Americans backward quite a bit in the way that we were perceived, and in the way also that we saw ourselves. You do internalize that negative perception, and then you also just have a lot of issues with the fact that people are using your name in such a horrible way.

And obviously, Barnard being a women’s college, I think it gave me a really great foundation to look at women’s issues from a very educated perspective but not an exclusionary perspective because Columbia’s campus is right there. You know, I think the biggest thing is understanding that we have to talk to each other about ways to make women’s lives better, not just in this country but across the world. And what we’re trying to do here, most definitely, is trying to find ways to bring in people who don’t traditionally feel like they’re welcome. I would not say the comic industry is a boys club anymore. I think that kind of belongs to the past.

What is the process like of creating a new character?
The hardest thing to do is to create a new character with his or her own series. So, what we did specifically with Ms. Marvel was think about the original intention, creating a character who was reflective of this certain experience. First, you have to figure out who the main character is, what her vulnerabilities are, what her wants and desires are, and, of course, what her superhero powers will be. You have to find a fundamental message—Peter Parker’s was “with great power comes great responsibility," and we wanted to find what that was for Ms. Marvel. For us, it came down to her identity struggle. And once we figured out that, we started asking, “What does she look like?” We wanted to make sure she was cute and quirky and adorable. Illustrator Adrian Alphona was very excited and started sending sketches of her family, her civilian look, of Jersey City. He’s a such a fantastic world builder. And then from there, we dive into the outline of what we want the first origin story to look like.

So Ms. Marvel is a shape-shifter and has healing capabilities. Of all of the superpowers, how do you decide who gets what?
We all had some really bad ideas at first, but her being a polymorph seemed to make sense. There’s a really great message there when you think about a young girl, who doesn’t like the way she looks and doesn’t think she fits in, who can change to look like anything. And her not being herself was a big part of her own self-exploration. You know, in the first issue, she morphs into her idol [Carol Danvers], and that was a very specific choice we made because of her thinking that the ideal and the concept of strength and beauty and perfection is someone who is literally her opposite in terms of looks. So, that power set really was organic to her story. And, I wanted to make sure she didn’t have typical pretty powers with sparkly explosions and her hair blowing in the wind. Or even powers of flight. We wanted to make sure it was a little quirky; she’s a teenager. Her powers are a little awkward, and I think that’s kind of fun to play with.

What’s your favorite part about your job?
There are small things, like the excitement of working on a story and seeing the first designs of a character or a cover come in, or the first draft of the script. On the other end, now I’m involved in more of our larger strategies and our content strategies, and figuring out where there’s potential and how we can maximize exposure to characters and certain franchises. That’s exciting because I can see the actual effect; I can see the sort of our intention, and I can see how it affects the rest of the company and how it affects our audiences. I’m able to have some connection to our overall content development plans. So, that’s really gratifying because Marvel’s not a huge company. My very selfish intention is to try to find ways where we can create more content for girls and women across the board, not just in comics. I know we’re going to be able to get there, and I’m so excited to help make it happen.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

"I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter"

In a heart-warming Instagram photo, Serena Williams shares the history of hair braiding and the importance of the tradition. The tennis player shared a photo of herself braiding her daughter Olympia Ohanian's hair and spoke about how "honored" she was to be able to "add another generation" to the tradition of the practice.

The photo shows Williams attentively braiding her daughter's hair while Olympia smiles, obviously loving the experience. Williams noted that hair braiding was created by the Himba people in Namibia, Africa, and that "we have been braiding our hair for centuries." "In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe," she continued.

Williams pointed out that braiding is a bonding experience. "People would often take the time to socialize," she wrote. "It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world."

Williams closed her post with a sweet message about her daughter, saying that she's "honored to share this bonding experience" with her.

See the post, below.

Courtesy of Adidas

The Stan Smiths are a must-have

Adidas just shared its capsule of sneakers paying tribute to Keith Haring, and TBH I can already feel my wallet emptying (and they're not even on sale yet). The new collection features three shoe silhouettes, all including the late artist's iconic imagery as embroidered designs.

The standout style of the collection is the Rivalry hi-top; with bright blue and orange stripes and piping along the edges, Haring's stars and cartoon bodies, in black thread, pop right off. If you're looking for something less over-the-top, the quirky white Nizza Hi RF sneakers show a snake wrapping around the back of the shoe and chasing one of Haring's cartoon bodies toward the toe. There's also a minimal embroidered design on the toe of a classic Stan Smith pair. Look a little more closely at the tongue though, and you'll notice the traditional image has been swapped with a caricature of Haring himself.

Peep the three silhouettes, below, and set your calendar for the official drop at the end of the month.

Adidas, Rivalry Hi Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Nizza Hi RF Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Stan Smith Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.

Photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Hopefully this one will be typo-free

In an Instagram Live on Thursday, Taylor Swift announced that she would be creating a collaboration with fashion designer Stella McCartney inspired by her upcoming Lover album. Although she kept it vague, we can only assume that the two are working on a collection of luxe merch.

Swift noted in the announcement that she has been friends with McCartney "for a really long time," and that the designer already heard the new album. "I respect what she creates, how she creates it," Swift continued. "There's so much whimsy and imagination and romance to the clothing that she designs." Swift has been wearing McCartney's designs "a lot recently," so maybe we should have seen the collab coming.

One eagle-eyed fan pointed out that Swift wore Stella McCartney rainbow-hued shoes during her Wango Tango set. If the collab is anything like these shoes, you can bet I'll be copping it as quick as I can.

Swift detailed in her Instagram Live that the album Lover would be all about romance, which makes McCartney and her feminine designs perfect for the collaboration. We just hope that this collection doesn't have any typos, like some of Swift's "ME!" merch did.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And spreads the message that "we all got crowns"

Late on Thursday, Taylor Swift dropped a new single, "You Need To Calm Down," and announced her forthcoming studio album, Lover, out this August. Following her lead single "ME!" Swift continues to spread her message of self-love and call out haters—particularly the homophobic ones—in this latest song.

Swift "ended homophobic locals," as one fan put it on Twitter, with one particular lyric: "'Cause shade never made anybody less gay."

Along with the song, Swift shared a lyric video via YouTube which made her sentiments even clearer. With her lyric, "Why are you made?/ When you could be glad?" she spelled "glad" as "GLAAD," referencing the queer media advocacy organization.

Swift sings of homophobic protestors in the second verse: "Sunshine on the street at the parade/ But you would rather be in the dark ages/ Makin' that sign must've taken all night." In the pre-chorus, she adds, "You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/ And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate."

Swift additionally comments on women being pitted against each other—"We see you over there on the internet comparing all the girls who are killin' it"—asserting that "we all got crowns." There's nothing trolls can do to rain on her parade anymore.

One fan pointed out the possible symbolism of the crown lyric. In "Call It What You Want," track 14 on Reputation, she sings "They took the crown but it's alright." Now on "You Need To Calm Down," track 14 of Lover, she sings that there's not just one crown—we all have them.

Some fans are pointing to the double meaning of the track title. If I had a dollar for every time someone said those words to me in a totally condescending way, I'd probably be richer than her! What woman hasn't been told to calm down about an entirely not-calm situation or while expressing their distaste?

During Swift's live stream for the release of the song, she also announced a fashion collaboration with designer Stella McCartney, a peek of which we got during the singer's WangoTango performance.

Lover is set for August 23 release.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

"I was like, 'Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what?'"

The day I meet Jim Jarmusch, the sun hangs so bright and hot and yellow and solid in the sky that it's hard to believe that it will actually set at night. It's one of those New York June days that suggests we might be in permanent daylight; it's got a completely different feeling than the crepuscular atmosphere of Jarmusch's latest film, The Dead Don't Die, which takes place in a small town in what feels like one long twilight, maybe the last one.

But for today, Jarmusch and I are sitting at a table in a sun-filled restaurant, though we're in the shade. We're in a part of the city that used to be very punk rock, and is now very NYU, yet being there with Jarmusch, who looks so at home, like he's holding court in the booth (it helps that Larry Fessenden, an old friend of Jarmusch's and a writer/director/producer/actor, who appears in The Dead Don't Die, happens by the table to say hi), makes the area feel a little punk rock again, even with all the sun.

The Dead Don't Die is a very punk rock zombie movie, by which I mean: It's not very scary, but it is very cool, and even when it's sneering, it's a little bit tender. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny as a trio of small-town cops who fight back against a nascent zombie apocalypse caused by fracking, the film is cast with a who's who of Jarmusch regulars, like Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, and Fessenden, to name a few; but it also features younger stars like Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, and Luka Sabbat—and there's a real earworm of a theme song, courtesy of Sturgill Simpson.

Below, I speak with Jarmusch about the movie, being a dilettante, and why he only reads his negative reviews—which is definitely one of the most punk rock things I've ever heard.

Photo by Gareth Cattermole/ Getty Images

This was filmed on a pretty condensed shooting schedule, right?
It was a very rough schedule. A very difficult one, actually.

We only had seven weeks to shoot, and we had to shoot Adam Driver out in three weeks because he had to be delivered to Star Wars, and the financing of the film was incredibly grueling and took a long time, so we were pushed so far that we had about one month of prep, and then three weeks with Adam. And then all these different actors coming in and out; I don't know how Carter and Josh, the two producers, organized it all. And then we'd shoot 15-hour days, and halfway through, I had walking pneumonia; I had two coats; it was 95 out; I was shaking. You know, just weird stuff like that. But it's all okay because we had such great people—our crew—everybody. And then, the visual effects were very taxing and complicated.

How did that all work together? Because there's more than one decapitated head.
Yeah, it's a mixture. First of all, we mixed prosthetics with makeup with masks for some of the zombie stuff, but all of those effects with the decapitations, we had to just imagine. So we had to choreograph everything and then only imagine kind of what it would be like, which was, for me, very abstract because I'm not very versed in visual effects. You know, you had to really kind of trust your instincts, because Adam Driver's chopping away with a machete with no blade.

It could've been a machete, it could've been a lightsaber, who knows? So, to what degree is this a sequel of Paterson with Adam Driver's character's last name being Peterson?
Well, I just do these things to amuse myself while writing, you know? Bill Murray in Broken Flowers was named Don Johnson, and in this, I gave him the name Cliff Robertson. Tilda Swinton's character is Zelda Winston. Rosie Perez is named Posie Juarez. You know, I'm just kind of amusing myself.

And Peterson, Paterson. While we were filming Paterson I was always teasing Adam that the next one, we would make was gonna be a sequel about a psychopathic murderous bus driver named Peterson. Tag line: "Get the fuck off my bus!" Or "Next Stop Hell!" You know, stuff like that. It's just to make them... I love trying to make Adam Driver laugh, because he has a very odd and wonderful sense of humor, but it's on the dry side, so I'm always joking around with him between work to try and see what makes him laugh.

But yeah, there's no sequel of any kind, and I don't think that way, and I don't plan, and I don't see my films from the past ever again. I just look toward the next thing.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

What was the original concept for this? When did you start coalescing all of these different elements into knowing that you wanted it to be your next film?
Some years ago after Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda kept teasing me, calling me, saying, "When do we do the zombies? When are we doing the zombies?" And in between I made Paterson and Gimme Danger, but then after those I started writing the zombie one, and my original conception was: I wanna make a film that's really funny and silly like Coffee and Cigarettes, where people talk about whatever nonsense I want them to, and I want to get actors I love, you know? So I thought, okay, if I make a zombie film, I can have a structure where different groups are cordoned off against the zombies, and the zombie attacks will be intermittent and not very long, so I'll have long lags where they're just stuck there, like in the house of The Night of the Living Dead, where they can talk about any kind of nonsense. So that was my first idea, and then when I started writing it, for some reason, I wanted to have a small town, Centerville, and I just followed my intuition, and it became this, I don't really know why beyond that.

What is it about small towns that make them the perfect setting for existential terror?
They're insular. They're kind of… everyone kind of knows each other. It's controllable by the characters. It's believable that everyone kind of know each other. I don't know. I'm not very good at analyzing that. And also, this is not a horror film because horror films use devices that are necessary to frighten people, like suspense, and then you get scared. We have no interest whatsoever in that. This is more of a metaphorical zombie film, but I would not call it a horror movie. It's a comedy with zombies with a kind of sad ending. Beyond that, I don't know what it is.

And horror nerds may not like it if they're expecting creepy, creepy, scary thing! They're not gonna get it. They're not gonna get that delivered to them.

What's interesting about it is seeing who fights back against this existential dread. Or, like, Chloë Sevigny's character, Mindy, doesn't fight, she is on her own separate trip, avoiding the end till she embraces it.
It's a character film. It's not even a plot film, really, although critics say that about all my films. But Chloë… it's a complicated thing, because when I first called Chloë, I told her... I wrote her a letter, and then she said, "Yeah, yeah I'd like to do this." And I said, obviously, this is not a feminist character. She's reactive. She's our sort of "Scream Queen." She screams like six times. But Chloë is the master of reaction, and I love watching her react.

She definitely feels like a stand-in for what a normal person would feel during these absurdist experiences, which is nice to have. It's not necessarily that you need a relatable character in a movie like this, but...
Yeah, but she's an empathetic human that's in a job with some authority, but in a small town where that means taking care of whatever, you know, as a police officer, pretty minimal [stuff]. There's not a lot of rampant crime or anything going on… or anything at all, really.

Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

A lot of people are going to be projecting tons of different meanings onto this film, like with all your films. To what level do you participate in that or pay attention to that? Or, once you're done making a film, is it just out there, and you just let people project onto it whatever they will?
I've always felt that anyone's interpretation of a film that I write and direct is probably more valid than my own. Because it's a funny thing, the beauty of films is going into a world—or a book or whatever—but going into a world that you don't know, and you are entering a world, and it takes you. And if you wrote it, and you were there filming it, and you're in the editing room every day for six months, the mix, and all that... I can never possibly see it. I like hearing what friends or people I know... I like Q and As after screenings because they have no agenda except their interest. I like that a lot, and I value that. I don't really like to read a lot of reviews unless they're really negative. I love the negative ones.

You do?
Yeah, because they must be very far from me in their perception of the world, and that is interesting to me. But I try not to read a lot...

I think you're probably the first person who I've ever spoken to who says they like to read the negative reviews.
I really like them. The worst one I ever got in my life, I laminated and used to carry in my wallet. It was a brief thing from a right-wing French [paper], maybe Le Figaro or something, of a film called Dead Man that we made, and they said—this is the English translation—"The French intelligence celebrates Jarmusch in the way death and blind parents would celebrate their retarded child. Jarmusch is 33 years old, the same age as Christ when he was crucified. We can only hope the same for his film career." I was like, Whoa! That is harsh! I'm keeping that one!

It gets personal.
But that was vicious. I was like, Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what? What happened? It was really... the knife was sharpened, you know.

That speaks to a very specific kind of agenda for sure.
A friend of mine Amos Poe, he's sort of a mentor of mine, a punk filmmaker, whatever, and when we were young when he made, in the late-'70s, one of his films—The Foreigner or Unmade Beds—the New York Times called it "the cinematic equivalent of kindergarten scribbling," and he put that on his posters and put "New York Times" and we were like punks, we were like, "Yes! Amos! That's great!"

I mean, it genuinely is a pretty great pull quote, and I think also a little bit oblivious to the charms of a kindergartener's scribbles and what the value is in that anyway.
Yeah, it was kind of accurate in a positive way, and they intended it as very negative.

In this film, there are so many actors who are veteran actors, but there are also a lot of younger actors. What do you like about the combination of that dynamic?
I just like the variety of sort of world perceptions—indicated in a very minor way when Bill Murray's character says, "I've known Hermit Bob since we were in junior high," and Adam's character says, "Oh, wow! That must've been like 50 years ago!" And Bill says, "Yeah. It was." But just the kind of difference of perception of age I find as I get older really interesting. And I'm very interested in young people, especially teenagers, because I think they form our sense of style, of music, of so many things, and yet they're kind of pushed around and treated badly and constantly told, "You don't know how the world really works! You're just a teenager!" But they gave us poetry. They gave us Mary Shelley and Rimbaud and chess masters, and all the great music comes a lot from teenagers. So I tried to keep a pulse, that's why the three teenagers, I would not let them turn into zombies. There are only four people [who don't get turned by zombies]: those three that are delinquents, and the Tom Waits character, who's already removed himself from the social order long before.

When the zombies become zombies, they all have one inciting thing that they're still pursuing in the real world. Do you have one thing that you think you would pursue if you were a zombie?
You know, it's hard because I'm a self-proclaimed dilettante. I'm interested in so many things, I don't know if I would be breaking into a bookstore, or if I would be in the alley outside of a movie theater, or if I would be trying to get into a guitar shop. I'm not sure. I have a lot of interests.

I mean there's a way in which it's a really tender portrayal of the human impulse to just seek out these things that they love.
It's not totally a critique; it's their vestigial memory of some things that they were drawn toward, whether it was power tools or oxycontin.

The Dead Don't Die is in theaters now.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features