Ever since their major debut in Hollywood with Bad Boys for Life, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have become a directing duo to watch. These days, they’re not only working with Marvel Studios on Ms. Marvel but also helming DC Comics’ Batgirl for HBO Max. We recently caught up with them before the premiere of their latest—they helmed the first and last episodes of Ms. Marvel on Disney+—and asked them about bringing their signature explosive flair to the long-awaited adaptation of the Marvel comic created by Sana Amanat.
Sabina Graves, io9: You’re known for bold action movies, like Bad Boys for Life, and here we get to see you tap into that with teen characters. What were your most enticing and persuasive selling points to get what you wanted to see [in Ms. Marvel’s AvengerCon sequence], as far as set pieces and action sequences?
Bilall Fallah: AvengerCon for us was the most fun set. We’re just like the luckiest fanboys in the world. And you know when we were all on the set, we were taking selfies and playing with all the toys. So it was just an extremely fun thing to do because this is our homage to all the Marvel fans. You know, Kamala Khan herself is a fan of the Avengers and Captain Marvel is her favorite. And so this is our homage to the fans, because they make the Marvel Universe so big and make superheroes really exist. So that’s how we started to design it with our production team. Like fans, we put a lot of Easter eggs and created that moment with that Ant-Man head that rolls—[it’s] like Spielberg.
io9: Yes! You had to have that Raiders of the Lost Ark moment.
Adil El Arbi: Like the Indiana Jones film. Spielberg OG. So, you know it had to be there. And they were just great fun to have this big, ginormous set piece at the end.
io9: And touching on that—I mean, we’re big Spielberg fans here. I’m a daughter of immigrants who also grew up on that Amblin vibe, which you see in this coming-of-age story. Can you talk a bit about your approach with finding Iman Vellani to play Kamala Khan and what you wanted to convey in the opening episode about her experience becoming a hero?
El Arbi: Well, for us when we discovered the comics we related to that character because we’re Moroccan, Belgian, and Muslim. Growing up as teenagers, we were looking for our own identity. You know, “What is our place?’ Are we Muslim or Moroccans? Are we Belgian?” and not finding our place in either one of those as we were teenagers, that identity crisis and all that. And that’s the same as Kamala Khan between the Pakistani Muslim-American culture. Iman Vellani is a Pakistani Canadian so she understood that character so well. And we put a lot of our experiences, our cultural background, the relationship with the family, the parents—all the other cultural aspects, like going to the mosque was also present in the comic book, which was very recognizable. And Iman Vellani, just like the character, she’s the biggest MCU fan there is. She loves Kevin Feige and he’s her idol. Iron Man is her favorite movie. She never thought that she would be part of the MCU. And all of a sudden, she’s an actress. She’s the main character, a superhero! And that’s the same as Kamala Khan looking up to Captain Marvel. And all of a sudden, she has superpowers. So you see a lot of parallel between, our story, [Ms. Marvel comic creator] Sana Amanat’s story, and Iman Vellani’s story.
io9: The action is incredible but I was also moved by the personal family drama. One of the hardest scenes to watch, because it felt too real, was definitely the moment when Kamala gets in trouble with her parents. Did it feel natural to tap in to some of your personal experiences growing up to create that scene?
Fallah: When I was young, you know I went out and my mother caught me in the middle of the night. All the stuff—all these things are so relatable and also that [common] conflict because my parents are traditional Moroccan and I’m young and I wanted to do that. So all that stuff was very relatable and personal to me. But just like in my life journey, chasing my dream, my family and my friends supported me. And it’s what you see, I think, in this TV show that the family and friends are the real superpower of Kamala Khan. And she has to go deep into her her roots to really understand from where she is and who she is.
io9: In fandom overall there’s just a lot of love but there is also a very small vocal of group of people who just like to hate on things. And I want to know, you know, especially with the inherent racism and misogyny, especially in this community, it can get to be a little intense. How do you personally feel supported by studios like Marvel in the rollout of this incredible project that deserves as much space as anything else?
El Arbi: Well, I think fandom values are a reflection of society, you know, so you got to have the good and the bad. We believe that it’s overall good. I mean, fandom for us the reason why we make these TV shows and movies. They make Marvel MCU heroes big and that’s why we have AvengerCon. We try to do that homage to the fandom. That’s why Kamala Khan is a fan. You got to also respect the fandom because they’re so passionate about that. I think that we tend to focus just on the positive aspects of it, because the love and the care that they give. You will not have that in any other job and it’s a real pleasure. We hope that our humble contribution to the MCU will please the fandom everywhere in the world, especially the younger fandom.
Ms. Marvel premieres June 8 on Disney+.
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