You’ve heard it a hundred times: be careful what you forward on WhatsApp. But at the same time, be careful what you dismiss on WhatsApp — a lesson Iman Vellani learned after receiving a message that changed her life.

Iman is from Markham, Ontario, and attends Unionville Jamatkhana. On 8 June 2022 she catapulted to international fame by debuting in the title role of Ms. Marvel on the Disney+ streaming service.

It all started when Iman’s aunt forwarded her a casting call over WhatsApp.

“[My aunt] was part of an Ismaili group chat and someone had forwarded the casting call in there and then she forwarded it to me and I never responded,” Iman detailed in an exclusive interview with The Ismaili.

“Then my mom forwarded it to me and I’m like ‘okay guys, let’s sit down and talk about what a scam is,’” she said, referring to the copious amounts of misinformation often sent via WhatsApp.

Her mom and aunt were persistent, telling Iman she had nothing to lose by taking the casting call seriously. So Iman sent in a headshot and a resume, and the next thing she knew she was signing non-disclosure agreements just to read the audition materials.

Soon after auditioning, to her surprise, she was offered the part. And the casting choice couldn’t have been better: Iman plays Kamala Khan, a Pakistani female, the first generation born in North America, and a comic book nerd: all attributes that Iman identifies with herself.

“The parallels between Kamala and I are absolutely insane, and I think her getting her powers and me getting this part really went hand in hand,” Iman said. The similarities didn’t stop there.

“Apart from us both being superhero nerds, I think Kamala’s family dynamic was pretty similar to what I grew up with … they brought their kids to Canada for a better quality of life but they’re also scared of the outside world, too,” Iman said.

Ms Marvel 1

(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+.
(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+.
Photo: Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022

“But I think it’s important for parents to grow with their children, especially first-gen kids and I think Kamala and her family are a beautiful demonstration — seeing her start in this [difficult] place with her parents, but over time she becomes a superhero and her parents learn more about her as a human and not just their kid — it really hit close to home for me because I feel like that’s my relationship with my parents now.”

When asked how she feels about representing young Muslims on mainstream television, Iman revisited her experience discovering Ms. Marvel when she was 15.

“The comic books meant so much to me when I picked them up for the first time and I think that was the first time I actually felt representation when I stumbled across Ms. Marvel and I was like ‘Not only is she a woman, she’s Muslim and she’s Pakistani and she’s a superhero nerd just like me’,” Iman said.

“Religion is a huge part of Kamala’s story. We’re taught in Islam to follow the right path… to be a good human,” added Iman. “I think Kamala draws on her culture and religion to help ground her and determine right from wrong, and it’s a very important part of her journey – and it is for me too.”

“It was like this comic book held up a mirror in front of me and it was so eye-opening and really inspiring as a 15-year-old kid who wanted to be a part of the film industry and the media industry and just never thought that she had a place there.”

In fact, Iman did have a very special place waiting for her in the film industry and will now be seen by young members of the Jamat on both the small and big screen as a powerful female superhero. Iman acknowledged the support she’s received from the Jamat during this tumultuous but exciting time in her life.

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Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+.
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+.
Photo: Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022

“I struggled a lot at the beginning of this whole process, just processing the fact that I got this part and that my face is going to be everywhere, and [asking myself] ‘How do I handle that?’” Iman said. “But everyone at my Jamatkhana and the entire Ismaili community, they’re very, very supportive. We did a screening in my local Jamatkhana on a Wednesday and my mom sent me a photo and literally everyone came on a Wednesday. So it was a heartwarming thing to see. Honestly, the support is tremendous and I’m very happy to be able to represent Unionville and Markham, it’s very cool.”

Iman especially acknowledged her parents’ support during this unprecedented time, saying that they were her rock, despite not being familiar with the film industry and Hollywood.

“They were taking their time to learn the technical jargon and just watch me grow and I think that really made them trust the people I was about to work with. I’m honestly very impressed by them and how well they’ve kept up with everything.”

While her journey has been unique, Iman had sage advice for other young members of the Jamat who might want to pursue a career in acting or the arts in general.

“I didn’t know [acting] was even something I wanted to pursue. I just knew I was passionate about this one thing and I was just going to try. So that’s really all the advice I can give: find a passion and explore it regardless of whether it is acting or if it’s something that will get you a job in the future, you never know. Find something you’re passionate about, learn about it, be good at it, and get your hands into everything,” she suggested.

“I didn’t know what I was good at, but I knew I liked film and I knew I liked movies and I wanted to know how to make them, so I was just making movies on my own, and I would watch behind-the-scenes of making movies and how things were made, and I think that passion drove me and I think it’s part of the reason I’m here today.”

The first few episodes of Ms. Marvel are currently streaming on Disney+, with new episodes available every Wednesday. The sixth and final episode will air on 13 July. The Jamat can continue to follow both Iman’s and Kamala Khan’s journey next summer on the big screen with the film The Marvels, starring Iman, Teyonah Parris, and Academy Award winner Brie Larson.