Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani

Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan (Marvel Studios)
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Updated 29 May 2022

Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani

Meet Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Iman Vellani
  • The young star of ‘Ms. Marvel’ reflects on her ‘surreal’ experience playing Kamala Khan in new Disney+ series

DUBAI: In 2014, a young girl named Iman Vellani was browsing the Marvel comic books at her local bookstore in Canada when she saw something she’d never seen before: A face that looked like hers. It was Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim superhero in the company’s decades-long history. Little did she know, at the age of 19 in the “Ms. Marvel” Disney+ series, she would be the one to bring Kamala Khan to life.

“Playing her is the most surreal thing ever. The whole reason I got into the comics was because I saw in her a girl like me. She was a Pakistani-Muslim superhero fanatic. I was a Pakistani-Muslim superhero fanatic. It was just crazy, because I didn’t think a story like that was possible, because I never really saw it before. This comic book was holding a mirror in front of me, and I just completely fell in love with her,” Vellani said at a recent media roundtable.

Vellani herself has still to properly process what’s happened to her. After all, she was cast while still in high school as a complete unknown with zero professional credits to her name, whisked off to another country to find herself face-to-face with her hero, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. It’s hard to blame her for walking through the entire experience as if it’s just some wonderful dream.




Ms. Marvel is the first Muslim superhero in the company’s decades-long history. (Marvel Studios)

“I was basically in shock for a year and a half,” she said.

Playing her favorite character, however, turned out to be more than just a chance to connect with the cinematic universe that she posted about so fervently online throughout her formative years. It also enabled her to explore her identity as a Muslim and a Pakistani herself — something that hadn’t been easy, growing up with friends who were not a part of her culture.

“Being Pakistani was a part of my life I was very dismissive about, and I felt disconnected from my culture prior to this show. I was born in Pakistan, but I moved to Canada when I was one. I didn’t have any Muslim or Pakistani friends,” Vellani said. “I felt that isolation that comes with not feeling understood. As close as I get to my school friends, they’re never really going to know my experiences and I’m never going to really know theirs.”




Playing her favorite character enabled Vellani to explore her identity as a Muslim and a Pakistani herself, she says. (Marvel Studios)

On set, Vellani found herself surrounded by South Asian actors she had grown up seeing on television, and Sana Amanat, the character’s co-creator and Marvel’s Director of Content and Character Development, herself Pakistani-American, took Vellani under her wing.

“Honestly, one of the biggest things for me is just having brown friends for the first time in my life,” Vellani told Arab News after the roundtable. “I was sitting on set with my co-star Rish Shah and listening to Bollywood music; that’s something I’d never done before in my life with anyone but my parents. I’d never had the chance to socialize with people from the same background as mine, and it really made me see things in a new way.”

At the roundtable, she praised Amanat, describing her as a “big sister” on set. “I felt so far removed from the film industry and wanted to be a part of it so badly growing up,” she said. “I’m so grateful I got to work with so many women and people of color behind the camera. I couldn’t be happier that Marvel is taking steps to be more inclusive and creating space for a character like Kamala to exist. I hope that opens a lot of doors.”




Performing as Kamala Khan was a daunting task at first for Vellani. (Marvel Studios)

Fittingly, her journey is not unlike the one Kamala Khan herself takes in the comics — a coincidence not lost on Vellani.

“I think it’s so cool that there are so many parallels between Kamala and me; that we both went on the same journey of self-discovery, learning about our family and our heritage as the show progressed. And now I could not be prouder to be Muslim, and to be Pakistani. It’s cheesy, but it’s true,” Vellani said.

Performing as Kamala Khan was a daunting task at first for Vellani, who struggled to act naturally as a character she adored so much.




Despite her lack of familiarity with being in front of a camera, Vellani did have some invaluable experience that the writers on the show lacked: Being a teenage girl in 2022. (Marvel Studios)

“It was really difficult, because I felt like I had to put on a face: ‘I’m acting, so I have to be in character.’ And this was my first character — my first role ever,” Vellani explained.

Once again, the women at Marvel helped her through it.

“Marvel’s amazing casting director Sara Finn held my hand throughout the whole thing and said, ‘Look, we cast you. We want you. Just be yourself. You don’t have to put on a face. That’s not you. You’re already Kamala.’ That was all the reassurance I needed,” she said.

Despite her lack of familiarity with being in front of a camera, Vellani did have some invaluable experience that the writers on the show lacked: Being a teenage girl in 2022.




“Ms. Marvel” is not a show that just attempts to capture the Muslim-American experience — it’s also about being a teenager, and all the pain and shame that comes with it. (Marvel Studios)

“The show is written by 30-year-olds and they’re writing for 16-year-old characters. That has, a lot of times in Hollywood, not been the most realistic thing,” Vellani said. “I really appreciate that the (creators) talked to us as humans. Our directors called me and said, ‘We want to hear about you. What was your high-school experience?’ In the end, they brought so many of my — and others’ — real experiences into the show. I think it shows how important it is to have those conversations.”

After all, while identity is certainly a part of “Ms. Marvel,” it is not a show that just attempts to capture the Muslim-American experience — it’s also about being a teenager, and all the pain and shame that comes with it.

“We really wanted to lean into that coming-of-age, corny vibe, because being a teenager is so embarrassing sometimes and cringy. When you’re a teen, everything is so heightened. Small inconveniences feel like the end of the world,” says Vellani. “We wanted to embrace all of that. I think our show is quite self-aware about how corny it is.”




Sana Amanat, Marvel’s director of content and character development. (AFP)

It’s been a steep learning curve for Vellani, who will become a global star almost overnight when the show comes out, and who is going directly from filming “Ms. Marvel” to the set of the upcoming movie “Marvels,” releasing in 2023, in which she will star with Brie Larson.

“I’ve really had to learn to slow down and take care of myself. This has been such an amazing and exhausting experience that if I don’t stop and look after my own needs, I won’t be able to do it,” she told Arab News.

Vellani is well aware that breaking ground as Marvel’s first Muslim superhero means she will be connected to that phrase for life. But she’s smart enough not to allow it to define her.

“It’s an honor and a privilege that Marvel trusts me to bring her to life,” she said. “But I don’t go to work every day thinking, ‘Oh, I’m the first Muslim superhero.’ I’d never get anything done that way.”

"Ms. Marvel" launches with Disney+ in the Middle East on June 8.

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Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen

Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen
Updated 25 June 2022

Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen

Emirati arts patron Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo receives prestigious award from Spain’s queen

DUBAI: Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo, founder of the Abu Dhabi Festival, has become the first Arab to receive the Reina Sofía School of Music’s prestigious medal of honor. 

The Emirati national, who was born to a Saudi father and a Syrian mother, received the award from Queen Sofia of Spain at the school’s academic closing ceremony in Madrid. 

Alkhamis-Kanoo was awarded for supporting the development of music culture and education, as well as for her outstanding support to the school.

When receiving the award, she dedicated her accomplishments to Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak — the wife of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, founder of the UAE — whose unwavering support she said “empowers women throughout the UAE.” 

Alkhamis-Kanoo, who was born in Beirut, founded the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation in 1996 and the Abu Dhabi Festival in 2004.

She has received numerous awards, including the Abu Dhabi Award and Abu Dhabi Medal (conferred by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan), the UN-affiliated Women Together Award, the Aspen Institute Emerging Voice Award for Cultural Stewardship, and the Puccini Festival Foundation Award.

 


German model Toni Garrn weds in Elie Saab gown

German model Toni Garrn weds in Elie Saab gown
Updated 25 June 2022

German model Toni Garrn weds in Elie Saab gown

German model Toni Garrn weds in Elie Saab gown
  • Former Victoria’s Secret model wore a custom flowy dress cut out at the waist with a lace bustier
  • She exchanged vows for the second time with British actor Alex Pettyfer

DUBAI: German model and actress Toni Garrn tied the knot this week in Greece wearing an Elie Saab gown.

The former Victoria’s Secret model exchanged vows for the second time with British actor Alex Pettyfer in an intimate wedding on Monastiri beach.

For her special day, Garrn wore a custom flowy dress by the Lebanese couturier. The gown was cut out at the waist and featured a lace bustier. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by TONI GARRN (@tonigarrn)

“Yesterday felt like the most beautiful dream,” the star told her 3.6 million followers. “The beautiful natural wedding ceremony that was actually a full-on rock-climbing adventure … in the most delicate wedding dress made completely by hand.”

Garrn, whose runway debut was in 2008 for the Calvin Klein spring/summer show, shared a series of images on her Instagram of the tough trip she took to get to where her husband and the rest of her guests were standing on the cliff.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by TONI GARRN (@tonigarrn)

“The chances were actually around 50 percent I (and) the dress wouldn’t make it in one piece to where Alex and everyone else was waiting. I’ll never forget this day.”

The couple previously wed in October 2020 in Hamburg, Germany in front of family and friends.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by TONI GARRN (@tonigarrn)

In March 2021, Garrn revealed on Instagram that she and Pettyfer were expecting their first child together. “I’ve been keeping this secret for … pretty much 6 months exactly. FINALLY I can share my biggest news with you all,” she captioned her short pregnancy reveal video back then.

The couple welcomed their daughter Luca Malaika in July 2021.

Besides tying the knot, the couple also celebrated, over the weekend, Pettyfer’s first Father’s Day.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by TONI GARRN (@tonigarrn)

The new mom walked over 60 shows for prestigious designers including Stella McCartney, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermès, Dolce & Gabbana and Michael Kors.

Her first acting role was in 2017. She played the role of South African model Reeva Steenkamp in the movie “Oscar Pistorius: Blade Runner Killer.”

She also appeared on productions like the Marvel blockbuster “Spider-Man: Far from Home” and the German drama series “You Are Wanted.”

Garrn is not the first celebrity to wed in an Elie Saab gown. South Korean actress Son Yejin, the “Games of Thrones” star Rose Leslie and actress Debby Ryan have all chosen the Beirut-born designer to make their dream dresses.


‘Elvis’: Baz Luhrmann’s biopic steers clear of the shadows 

‘Elvis’: Baz Luhrmann’s biopic steers clear of the shadows 
Updated 25 June 2022

‘Elvis’: Baz Luhrmann’s biopic steers clear of the shadows 

‘Elvis’: Baz Luhrmann’s biopic steers clear of the shadows 

CHENNAI: Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of the legendary singer “Elvis” is lukewarm at best. 

Given Elvis’s legendary status, Luhrmann’s 160-minute work disappoints, largely because he has chosen to edit the piece so as to make it seem restless — a movie without a soul with frames flashing past so fast that there is no time to sit and savor the spectacle. 

The story is mostly narrated by Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who as Elvis’s shrewd manager was as much responsible for the singer’s rise, pushing him to travel from Memphis to breathtaking heights, as for his fall. It is this strange and sometimes vicious relationship between a domineering Parker and the singer (played by Austin Butler) that the movie fails to explore — it merely skims the surface here and there and audiences are only given glimpses of how the young star was manipulated and controlled, with his dream of becoming a serious actor derailed by his manager.

The story is mostly narrated by Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who as Elvis’s shrewd manager was as much responsible for the singer’s rise. (YouTube)

We do get a glimpse of Elvis’s early life, including his struggles, the influence of black music — which is a relief given the recent realization in the press and on social media that the star was indeed influenced by the music of black artists in an atmosphere of entrenched racism — his two-year military service in Germany and marriage to Priscilla, among other events. However, the director chooses to remain on the brighter side, with the rock ‘n’ roll legend presented as dashing and debonair until the very end, although that was not the reality. 

But what audiences are really here for is the music, and on that note “Elvis” fails to deliver. Presley’s own vocals were used in the later part, and Butler sings the early hits and does offer some electrifying moments, but the soundtrack could have been far more engaging. 

A magnificent Hanks manages to evoke the Jekyll-and-Hyde persona he plays with fair degree of conviction, although he does slip up now and then. Meanwhile, an equally impressive Butler as the hip-swiveling, guitar strumming, foot tapping king is often mesmeric but it is not easy to impersonate a man whose aura is still dazzling. The writing by Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner fails to give balance to the narrative and despite some engaging performances, “Elvis” is a bit of a let down.


Classic diners serve up a ‘blast from the past’ on Jeddah Season’s City Walk

Burger Circus and cake shop Butter will stay throughout Jeddah Season. (Supplied)
Burger Circus and cake shop Butter will stay throughout Jeddah Season. (Supplied)
Updated 24 June 2022

Classic diners serve up a ‘blast from the past’ on Jeddah Season’s City Walk

Burger Circus and cake shop Butter will stay throughout Jeddah Season. (Supplied)
  • In an American diner, Leung said, the menu offers a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We just wanted to focus on just two burgers, but in an American diner theme”

JEDDAH: Two classic 1950s-themed diner options from Hong Kong have made their way to Jeddah Season’s grand theme park, City Walk.

With vintage music in the background, staff in “soda jerk” uniforms, and a one-page menu of burgers, fries and shakes, Burger Circus offers visitors a “blast from the past” experience.

Burger Circus and cake shop Butter arrived on May 5 and will stay throughout the two months of the Jeddah Season.

Both outlets belong to Black Sheep, a Chinese company with about 35 restaurants in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai.

Jonathan Leung, operations director of Black Sheep, explained the concept behind both outlets, adding that it is “an honor” to be operating in Jeddah.

HIGHLIGHT

‘Burger Circus is a 1950s American diner. One of the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark, grew up in Toronto, Canada, and his family used to own diners, so he spent a lot of time and growing up at a diner,’ said Jonathan Leung, operations director of Black Sheep.

“Burger Circus is a 1950s American diner. One of the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark, grew up in Toronto, Canada, and his family used to own diners, so he spent a lot of time and growing up at a diner,” he said.

“So it’s a little bit of nostalgic childhood memories. He has always wanted to open a diner.”

In an American diner, Leung said, the menu offers a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We just wanted to focus on just two burgers, but in an American diner theme,” he said.

Burger Circus also offers two side orders, two milkshakes (vanilla and chocolate) and two drinks on its menu.

“We want to bring good food and good stories to Jeddah; we just want to do that,” he said.

“People in Jeddah or in Saudi Arabia are open minded to try new things. There’s room for everything here, we love it here,” he added.

Talking about Butter, Leung said the background story is about a single mother with two children, who works very hard at a diner to make ends meet.

“She’s strong and generous, but she’s also very sassy. That’s Butter,” he said.

“Burger Circus and Butter go hand in hand and go very well together, it sort of came from the same era; diners prefer classic American cake,” he added.

Luke Barry, culinary director for Leylaty Group, worked with Black Sheep in Hong Kong for six years.

“I’ve always loved Black Sheep restaurants. We have a very good relationship, so I thought Jeddah Season is a good opportunity to bring them here,” he said.

“They have 30 to 35 restaurants, niche burger restaurants that are very strong and conceptualized, and Saudi Arabia has a lot of room for what they do. They have amazing restaurants, from casual to premium to Michelin star,” he added.

Barry said that they tried to replicate Hong Kong’s Burger Circus in Jeddah as much as possible.

“We spent 16 hours painting a wall (that is identical to the branch in Hong Kong), the exact posters that you find in Hong Kong, and the uniform is almost exactly the same,” said Barry.

“It was very important to us to use the exact same playlist, to bring Hong Kong’s Burger Circus here,” he added.


From world firsts to rare nods, chefs of Dubai’s Michelin-starred restaurants celebrate big wins

From world firsts to rare nods, chefs of Dubai’s Michelin-starred restaurants celebrate big wins
Updated 24 June 2022

From world firsts to rare nods, chefs of Dubai’s Michelin-starred restaurants celebrate big wins

From world firsts to rare nods, chefs of Dubai’s Michelin-starred restaurants celebrate big wins

DUBAI: From the world’s first unlicensed restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star to one of the rare Indian eateries to get a nod, Dubai is now home to a host of Michelin-starred dining spots.

Arab News caught up with a number of the restaurants’ chefs to find out how they plan to celebrate and whether this means the heat in the kitchen is about to get hotter.

The chefs of 11 Woodfire, Torno Subito, Tresind Studio, and Armani/Ristorante, which all gained one star, described how it felt to be internationally recognized after it was recently announced that 11 restaurants in Dubai received a Michelin star — nine places won one star, while two restaurants received two stars.

11 Woodfire’s chef Akmal Anuar



The restaurant, located in Jumeirah, is the first unlicensed eatery to win a Michelin Guide star.

Its chef Akmal Anuar described the achievement as “huge.”

He said: “For me being Muslim, and to achieve this and to be on stage with everybody else, proves that nothing is impossible. I feel overwhelmed. I am very, very happy.”

Anuar plans to celebrate the milestone with his team next week.

“We will shut down one day and buy a cake. We will sit down, have a motivational speech, and get ready for the new era. This (win) wasn’t just me; it was my team. They all worked very hard for it,” he added.

11 Woodfire offers dishes such as black Angus steak, jumbo prawns with brown butter, Japanese eggplant, and Chilean sea bass, while priding itself on being committed to zero waste and following sustainable practices.

Torno Subito’s chef Bernardo Paladini



Chef Bernardo Paladini’s intention with Torno Subito, located in the Palm Jumeirah, was “to have fun and to open an audacious Italian restaurant with great food, quality ingredients, and vibrancy.”

He said: “In all honesty, this completely caught us by surprise. We really did not expect it and it is a result of four years of hard work. I feel elated, excited, and proud. I still cannot believe it.”

The chef gave credit to his team and pointed out that the award was not just for him, but for the hardworking staff that helped him on a daily basis.

Being a Michelin-star restaurant will not make Paladini change the concept of his eatery, or the prices.

“We will stay true to the roots of Torno Subito and maintain the restaurant’s identity. Pressure is good and we are very conscious of what it means to have a Michelin star and will do everything to maintain it,” he added.

Paladini’s recommendation to diners is to try the restaurant’s tasting menu which includes all of its signature dishes such as cocktail di gamberi, rock lobster roll, and Japanese beef.

Being an internationally recognized cook, the chef’s top tip for amateur cooks was to experiment. “Everyone can cook good food, but when you are able to show emotion and passion in the food, this is what makes all the difference.”

Tresind Studio’s chef Himanshu Saini



Not many Indian restaurants have Michelin stars and that is what makes Tresind Studio’s chef Himanshu Saini proud.

He said: “It feels surreal. Being among the few Indian restaurants in the world to have a star is a great feeling. We strive to break perceptions and showcase Indian food with a different perspective.”

The recognition has fueled up the chef and his team who now feel motivated to work harder. He wasted no time and immediately celebrated the award with his team after the Tuesday awards ceremony event at the Dubai Opera.

Talent may be important for chefs, but Saini pointed out that hard work beats it. “Work hard because that is the only way you can evolve as a chef,” he added.

He noted that the bar of expectation from his diners had now been raised.

“It is a good thing because it only motivates us and keeps us on our toes to keep evolving,” he said.

Tresind Studio has previously won the art of hospitality gong at the inaugural Middle East and North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 awards by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Armani/Ristorante’s chef Giovanni Papi

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by GIOVANNI M. PAPI (@gsupapi)

Armani/Ristorante restaurant is at Dubai’s Armani hotel.

The eatery’s chef Giovanni Papi said he feels “extremely proud and emotional as a Michelin star is a dream that each chef chases.

“We knew that Armani /Ristorante was invited for the Michelin guide revelation but (weren’t) sure about the outcome for our restaurant. But I feel confident that we are delivering the outstanding service and culinary experience at Armani/Ristorante all the time,” he told Arab News.

The restaurant, which dishes up modern Italian cooking in a luxurious atmosphere, is known for its signature dishes such as agnolotti del plin, a pasta typical of the Piedmont region of Italy, fish dish filetto di scorfano and agnello al mirto, a lamb dish.

If you plan to book a table at the newly crowned Michelin-starred restaurant, the chef suggests the signature chlorophyll risotto and Sicilian red prawns, along with the Armani/Ristorante La Sfera dessert.