Malala Windsor: The Hijabi Spider-Person Representing Muslim Women Around the World

The new hijabi member of the Spider Society was only on screen for a few seconds, with one line, but for Muslim hijabi fans, she gave a whole new meaning to the Spider-Man ethos — “Anyone can wear the mask.” 

Malala Windsor: The Hijabi Spider-Person Representing Muslim Women Around the World
Malala Windsor is a character original to the film, created to help populate its immense Spider-Society. She was named after the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (2023) swung into theaters on June 2, bringing several new Spider-people to our screens. One of them is the new Spider-UK, Malala Windsor. The new hijabi member of the Spider Society was only on screen for a few seconds, with one line, but for Muslim hijabi fans, she gave a whole new meaning to the Spider-Man ethos — “Anyone can wear the mask.” 

The Spider-Verse films have been lauded by critics and fans alike for their cultural specificity and the thought put into the depiction of Miles Morales’ family as well as Miles as a character. The animators’ care is especially clear in their planted easter eggs and the depiction of Brooklyn, Miles’s home.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) brought new Spider-people into the cinematic canon, including the lovable middle-aged Peter B. Parker, as well as fan favorites Spider-Ham and Spider-Noir. “Across the Spider-Verse” gave us a far more expansive dive into the diversity of the Spider-Verse (even a LEGO Spider-Man), including Spider-Punk (Hobie Brown), Spider-Man India (Pavitr Prabhakar), and Spider-UK, Malala Windsor.

Kris Anka, character designer for the film, shared on Twitter that the animation team behind the creation of the newer members of the Spider Society always planned to have Spider-UK wear a hijab, but they worked with people who wear the hijab to get the design right. Anka wrote, “The idea was to always give her a hijab, so I took a wide look at different ways to wear it, but especially athletic versions. Swimmers’ uniforms were a big inspiration for me, but I also needed to consult hijab wearers on correct construction.” Later, Anka also added that he consulted Sara Alfageeh, illustrator and artist of the graphic novel Squire and Ms. Marvel, for the design for Spider-UK. 

The reactions to the character’s seconds-long appearance on screen were full of joy, as people saw themselves represented as one of the most iconic superheroes of all time. Writer Shaheena Uddin, for RadioTimes, explored the impact of Malala Windsor in an article. She wrote, “Having ‘hijabi-cosplayed’ as Spider-Gwen recently at MCM’s Comic-Con, I was brainstorming future characters I could see myself as and the scope to choose from was fairly limited.” Uddin makes a crucial point: Muslim fans and fans of marginalized backgrounds generally have to be creative in imagining ourselves as part of these worlds where we rarely see people like us. 

The potential of infinite versions of Spider-Man in an infinite number of universes prompted many artists online to create their own Spidersonas, and many of them were people of marginalized backgrounds who worked in inspiration from their own cultures and backgrounds. The work of the animators and writers who put so much effort into portraying the idea that “anyone can wear the mask” made it possible for many more people to feel that they belong, even in the Spider-Verse. Unfortunately, those same animators who did the research to make so many people feel represented were egregiously overworked. According to a report from Vulture, over 100 of the animators quit because of the working conditions. 

Over the last three months since the WGA strike began, we have learned much more about the ways in which writers are rarely paid their dues for the work they put into films like Spider-Verse. The value of their work to fans like myself and those who took so much hope in the appearance of Malala Windsor is indescribable, but at the least, they should be paid a living wage, and they deserve it, for all the efforts they make to include marginalized voices. 

As is true for many other Muslim and South Asian comic book fans, I first felt represented by Ms. Marvel. The first time I read her comics, and saw the amount of thought and detail put into her portrayal, I saw whole new possibilities for myself and my future as a writer. I have been searching for that feeling ever since, and I have been working towards making other people feel the same as well. 

It is striking that a seconds-long appearance from a hijabi Spider-person brought such joy and celebration from Muslim and hijabi fans of superhero media, but considering the crumbs they are used to, it is a significant step in the right direction. A step that makes it so that Muslim and hijabi fans of Spider-Man don’t have to stretch their imaginations to see themselves as superheroes anymore. They already see her. 

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Fann.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.