Badass Women spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender. (Not to mention, they are exceptionally cool.) Here, Marvel comic book editor Sana Amanat shares what it took to co-create the first Muslim female superhero, partially based on her life.
Why she’s a badass: Alongside writer G. Willow Wilson, this Marvel Comics editor helped create Kamala Khan (of Ms. Marvel), the very first Muslim female South Asian superhero to have her own series. Through the comics, readers are introduced to a teen who is honing her shape-shifting superpower and embracing her faith. Since the first issue was released in 2014, Ms. Marvel has been nominated for numerous awards and listed on top-selling graphic novel charts.
“We knew it was going to be special during the creative process,” Amanat tells InStyle. “This was never about checking a box or creating a PR sensation; it was about trying to tell a good story about an atypical Muslim girl.” She went on to say that the creative duo drew on their own personal experiences (Wilson as a convert to Islam and Amanat as someone who grew up Muslim) to portray Kamala Khan as a superhero who could relate to a variety of people.
How she got into superheros: As a kid growing up in New Jersey, Amanat’s world was filled with science fiction, thanks to her three older brothers. She first fell for the old-school Calvin and Hobbes and Archie Comics. (If you're curious, yes, she does watch Riverdale: “You know what? It’s not the Archie we all grew up with, but it's working for me.”) And her intro to Marvel superheros came from the X-Men cartoon series. Amanat thinks the X-Men mutants acted as superhero escapism for many young girls in the ’90s. “[The mutants] were ostracized by society and yet they found a way to be better human beings, to use their weaknesses as strengths,” Amanat says. “That is something really powerful for young kids to understand.”
Overcoming obstacles: Amanat has heard her fair share of snide comments telling her she doesn’t belong in comics as a woman or as a Muslim. She's open about how outside perspectives of her religion have impacted her own self perceptions, especially in the face of bigotry. "For me, being Muslim has always been difficult just because people make a lot of assumptions," Amanat says. "But I got to a point where I could push all that out and realize I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m really proud of my community, what we've accomplished, and what we're really all about.”
Learning to lean into her experiences—both good and bad—as a woman and as a minority group member has benefited her more than trying to ignore them.
But comic books can still be a boys' club, and embracing her skill set wasn't always as easy. “The big thing that I was afraid of when I first got my job here was that I'm not the traditional fan girl,” she says. “I didn't grow up reading comics the way a lot of these guys have, so I was stepping into a job where I felt like an outsider.”
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Amanat went to her bosses with her concerns right from the beginning. One boss, Joe Quesada, praised her unique voice, experience in storytelling, and appreciation for various art forms—and that attitude has given her the confidence to create bold new superheros who can attract audiences that may not have grown up in the comic book universe.
It has also helped her create her current position as Director of Content and Character Development: “I had a conversation with my boss where I was like, ‘Look, we have so much content developing across the company, but how are we developing our characters across our platforms? And how is that creating another touch point for a different kind of Marvel fan—not just the traditional fan boy?’ And that's really how my job was born.”
Her superpower: Amanat may not be able to shape-shift, but she sure can give a speech. Last year at a Women’s History Month event held in the White House, Amanat had the opportunity to introduce former President Barack Obama to a crowd of incredibly powerful and accomplished women. In her speech, Amanat said, "Being normal is being different; being different is being American," a statement she stands by today as a summary of all her life experiences up until this point.
"My whole life, viewing myself as this outsider made me feel like I wasn't the 'norm' until I realized that everyone has distinct points of view that make them who they are, and that is what this country should be about," Amanat says. "That is where progress comes from: being able to respect different points of view to create something special. I don't believe this country's meant to be homogenous. The future, I think, is brown, intermixed, unique."
Amanat is also proud of what Ms. Marvel has done for her nieces, is doing for other young girls, and will do for future generations. She recalls meeting the mother of a young aspiring comic book writer who tearfully told her, “You have no idea what this means for us. It’s such a sign of hope.”
Who inspires her: “My parents,” Amanat says without skipping a beat. Amanat may have inherited her fighting spirit from her mother, who left a conservative Muslim household in 1960s Pakistan to travel alone across the world to America where she built a community center and mosque in Northern New Jersey that’s still standing today.
The art of comics: Superhero movies and content have seen a resurgence of popularity in the past decade, and Amanat thinks there's a reason behind that. She sees comic books as an art form that’s long been underappreciated. She wants fans to recognize all the work that goes into a single page or panel of a comic and the level of talent these creators exhibit.
Amanat says, “If you love storytelling, whether it’s theater or really any type of art experience, this is another one that I think will make your life a lot fuller if you throw yourself into it.”
Her best career advice: “Find your allies, people you can learn from,” Amanat says before quickly adding, “but do it in a way that’s honest and not kissing ass.”
What’s up next: Amanat plans to continue engaging the women returning to comics through her breadth of work and “Women of Marvel” podcast (a podcast that grew from small panels of female speakers to be a safe space for many women to share their love of comics). She wants to keep living up to her favorite mantra from a poem by Rumi: “Unfold your own myth,” which to her means breaking down barriers, telling your own story, and finding your truth.
“Look, I love Beyoncé, but I know I'm never going to be like her," Amanat says. "And that's okay because she's amazing, but I have something else I have to offer.”