With Ms. Marvel still delivering delight weekly, it's no wonder fans are looking forward to seeing Iman Vellani's Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel team up with her cosmic comrades. Kamala will round out the trio that includes Teyonah Parris' Monica Rambeau and Brie Larson's Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Speculation is surging about what threat will bring these heroes together, especially considering Monica's chilly relationship with Carol.
The main villain of The Marvels will reportedly be played by Zawe Ashton, but who exactly she's portraying is unclear. As previously reported, there is some reason to believe that Ashton will be taking on the role of General Ael-Dan.
Ael-Dan was a male Kree character who appeared for a very brief stint in older Captain Marvel comics (three issues to be precise). Ashton's casting in the role would mean at minimum gender-swapping the character, but it could be a way to use an existing character with very little background as a springboard for a more fleshed out MCU appearance.
Regardless of who she's portraying, Ashton has been tight-lipped about her casting until just recently. Now, she's started to share her feelings on joining the MCU roster.
Zawe Ashton Surprised to be Joining the MCU
In an interview with Vanity Fair, The Marvels star Zawe Ashton shed a little light on how she came to join the world of Marvel. According to her, it was largely by surprise.
When asked about what it was like to join the Marvel universe, Ashton remarked that she was "still terrified to say anything because [she] didn’t even know [the casting news] had come out."
Ashton went on to remark that she'd "been moving away from acting for a while" in the hopes that her efforts would "be better spent behind a computer or potentially behind a camera."
Her role in The Marvels comes as more coincidence than anything else. Ashton was clear that for her to return to acting she "needed to reenter the business in a very new way:"
"I went unrepresented for a while. While I was on Broadway, I really cleared the decks. I needed to reenter the business in a very new way. I [told] my team that I wanted to be of service to first-time female directors. Specifically, first-time female directors of color."
Among the first directors she spoke to was Nia DaCosta, who at the time had been working on Candyman. According to Ashton, the pair clicked and "really geeked out on Jane Austen and Persuasion." By the end of their conversation, Ashton made it clear she wanted to work with DaCosta on her next project, even if it was something that "costs like five [cents] to make."
When DaCosta called to sign her to her next project, Ashton responded, "Yeah, absolutely! Where are we [going]?"
Then [later] she called and asked if I would do her new movie. I was like, yeah, absolutely! Where are we [going]? In the backwaters of somewhere? How small is the budget? And it was this follow-up to Captain Marvel, which had not been on my radar at all. [Laughs.] The expectation was just to fulfill Nia’s vision.
While joining the MCU was a surprise, Ashton was clear that she "had the best time doing it" and that through working on a Marvel project her "respect for everyone involved in these movies has gone through the roof, in a very nuanced way."
The MCU's Very Bright Future
While Ashton didn't reveal much about exactly who her mystery villain is, she touched on some excellent points about the state of filmmaking and the evolving landscape of both the MCU and Hollywood as a whole.
The industry remains, even today, heavily dominated by white cisgender male creators. Ashton's journey to the MCU came directly as a result of her desire to support women—and women of color specifically—who often have a difficult time breaking into the field. Marvel's decision to choose Nia DaCosta to helm a film like The Marvels goes a long way in showing that they share some of Ashton's dedication to shaking up the status quo both on screen and behind the camera.
This kind of barrier pushing has become something of a hallmark of the Captain Marvel brand. Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, made a point to ensure the press that covered her film was as inclusive as possible. Ms. Marvel, the newest entry, was the first Marvel project to cast an actor with no prior acting experience as the lead role when Iman Vellani stepped into the shoes of Kamala Khan and became the MCU's first Pakistani Muslim superhero.
Phase 4 has done incredible work in making the fantastic world of Earth-616 feel more like the one we live in. By giving new opportunities to actors, directors, and writers of all stripes and choosing to tell a diverse array of stories, Marvel has created a significantly more colorful cast of heroes than it began with. That's certainly for the best; with a cast of characters as large as Marvel has to pull from, everyone deserves to find someone they can relate to on screen.
Zawe Ashton's mysterious villain will battle the MCU's cosmic trio when The Marvels debuts on July 28, 2023.