It goes without saying that Marvel Studios has been a powerhouse in cinema for nearly two decades now. Personally, I remember getting the last seat at the back of a packed theatre to see Marvel’s first Avengers movie.
The success of one film in 2008 expanded into a universe spanning 33 movies and a dozen television series over 15 years.
But now the second season of Marvel’s animated series What If…?, released in late December on Disney+, introduces a Mohawk superhero to the Marvel pantheon: Kahhori.
Finally acknowledging Indigenous culture by giving us a seat at the table is a milestone.
Written by Ryan Little, the sixth episode of the season stars Kahnawake’s own Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs as Kahhori and quite a few other local voices, such as Jeremy White, all contributing to a significant episode leading up to a spectacular finale.
My first watch of the episode, What If…Kahhori Reshaped The World, was a night to remember. Not only was it at a red carpet event hosted by Walt Disney Pictures, but I was also surrounded by members of my own community.
I remember speaking to a few people in the lobby of the cinema, where we were all excited to finally get the curtain pulled back on the big secret we all knew so little about. As the lights went low and the screen came on, it was a dazzling 34 minutes.
Everyone’s face lit up as we got to listen to the language for the first time on the big screen. The crowd laughed at the jokes said in Kanien’kéha, shocked at the beautiful artwork in front of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and never felt prouder to be Kahnawa’kehró:non.
One of the very first scenes after the opening credits shows daily life in Kahhori’s village. There are buildings that look like Longhouses; the people in the village are seen picking corn, beans, and squash; families are sitting together by the fire.
Kahhori and her brother Wàtha are seen playing together, sneaking out of the village. Everything is calm, quiet, and peaceful. All this changes when the conquistadors invade, setting up Kahhori’s fate of having to save her people.
Once she moves on to the Sky World, she meets Atahraks who helps her in controlling her new powers and shows her what life is like in his world. While Kahhori is still hesitant to accept her situation, she does get a taste of this new world.
Slowly forgetting and letting go of her old life, it isn’t until her new home is invaded again that she realizes what she must do to save both worlds. It is then that she becomes a hero.
As the audience spilled back out to the lobby after the showing, I kept my ear close to the ground with conversation stirring as we exited the theatre. There have been a lot of mixed feelings towards the episode. Some conversations I heard were quite negative, with the concerns mainly centered around this interpretation of the creation story and some linguistic errors in the Mohawk language.
To me, it’s important to remember the fact that the series What If…? is heavily inspired by their 1977 comic book counterpart which shares the same name.
The original idea was for writers to have the freedom of taking key moments in the Marvel universe and see what would happen if things unfolded differently. This creation story and this Sky World is only an interpretation by Little and how he wanted to tell his story.
When it comes to the linguistic side of the episode, I can only trust what I know. What I know is that there is no such thing as perfect. Whether it be the translation in the script, mispronunciation, or just simply the writing. I think what we can all take away from the episode is we as a people are finally in the spotlight and our culture is finally being represented.
If there were issues with the history being wrongfully depicted or the language not being 100 percent precise, we can look ahead and use this as a stepping stone in the right direction to help us tell accurate historical stories of our people.
Despite whatever flaws carried out, I think gathering as much information as we can based on the feedback from our first-language speakers and storytellers will only propel future projects to be even better.
When we next see Kahhori in the last episode of the season, she has been an established hero for some time. We see just how important Kahhori’s character is as she plays a major supporting role alongside other well-known heroes. This is exciting as we can count on her to make future appearances in other Marvel projects while continuing to represent our people and hopefully touching on other Indigenous stories.
Women play a key role in our stories. Often portrayed alongside the men, our women are important and powerful. So giving all these badass powers and showing the world how strong our Mohawk women are is a reflection of our culture.
Kahhori gets put in a position where she leaves the physical world behind and is transported to the Sky World, where she is gifted with all these amazing powers.
Yet, she still tries to get back to where she came from. There is a deep meaning behind this narrative, reminding us that our ancestors give us strength and power, and remembering that what they fought for is a testament to knowing who we are as Onkwehón:we.
Since I was a kid I remember watching my favourite characters come to life on the big screen, getting excited for every superhero movie. I was in the first audience in Montreal to witness Captain America catch Thor’s hammer for the first time. When Spiderman was recast, I remember being reminded that with great power there must also come great responsibility.
All of this, while living in a small Mohawk community, inspired me to start writing, creating, and thinking bigger.
Now seeing those two worlds come together in front of me, I am ecstatic to see what’s next in store for Kahnawake and our new superhero Kahhori.