Storytellers Spotlight: Marya Bangee on reclaiming narratives through film and television

ByNzinga Blake & Jessica Dominguez OTRC logo
Thursday, April 20, 2023
Storytellers Spotlight: Marya Bangee on the power of authenticity
Disney's Marya Bangee shares the importance of authentic storytelling and reclaiming narratives.

Marya Bangee personally understands the power of authentic storytelling, and the potential narratives have to build bridges of commonality and connection among people.

As vice president of representation and inclusion strategies at the Walt Disney Studios, some of her team's responsibilities include overseeing hundreds of film productions from company entities such as Twentieth Century Studios, Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm and more.

Furthermore, as Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with Eid celebrations, Bangee is also a Muslim American woman who is using her heritage and life experiences, specifically through visual storytelling, to bring new perspectives to storytelling.

"I have loved stories my entire life. The thing that's so powerful about stories is that they use the language of emotion," said Bangee. "A story is not data. A story is not, you know, science, a story is really about a lived human experience."

Bangee believes that when a story is done well, it can create real change and help people connect to one another through a lens of better understanding and a willingness to rethink preconceived notions.

"As a Muslim, I have seen that in so many ways when I'm engaging with people who are scared or suspicious of me, for me to be able to share something about myself, it actually enables for them to see that there is some commonality and similarity," she told ABC. "It's a door in which you can start a conversation that can change the way that somebody understands you."

Her team has worked on productions like "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and Disney's upcoming "The Little Mermaid," which she can't wait for audiences to watch.

Furthermore, Bangee says stories through media enable us to understand those who may be different from us, but at the same time, storylines can also instill fear and division.

"I know firsthand how stories can really harm people. I was a sophomore in high school when 9/11 happened," she said. "One of the things I saw was that overnight, my story was taken away from me. So a lot of people started to project onto me what they understood my identity was, and it was a profoundly alienating."

Over time, the life-changing experience encouraged her to help people find their agency and reclaim their narratives. And so today, Bangee feels incredibly privileged and honored in her profession, which gives her the opportunity to make a difference in the space of inclusion and representation.

Surprisingly, it wasn't until recently when Bangee first saw herself reflected in popular culture. As part of the "Ms. Marvel" project, a series released by Marvel Entertainment featuring a young Pakistani Muslim American teenager who finds out that she's a superhero, Bangee and her team worked hard to make sure the series was authentic and felt right for a worldwide audience.

The response she received about the "Ms. Marvel" series was overwhelmingly positive. Both professionally and personally, Bangee is extremely proud of her team's hands-on work in this history-making production.

As a Muslim American, Bangee embraces Ramadan, a very special time culturally during the ninth month on the Islamic calendar. This holy time for Muslims worldwide is filled with daily fasting from sunrise to sunset, prayer, reflection and community.

"It is a really beautiful time in the Muslim community. It's a time of family and celebration and connection," expressed Bangee.

She sees Ramadan as an opportunity to change people's perspective of what the holy month truly signifies.

"What I'm hopeful for is that we're actually starting to get past, you know, fear and getting to a place of education. First of all, the fasting in a lot of ways it helps you refocus and reconnect," said Bangee.

Part of Ramadan's faith tradition is the idea of love and service, encouraging Muslims to consider one's commitments to integrity, character and ponder ways to serve others.

Bangee had an important message for future storytellers, specifically young Muslim youth.

"Dream big. I think my life is a testament to the incredible things that can happen when you take risks and you believe," said Bangee. "We need so many more storytellers to go out there and share their beautiful imagination."

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of this ABC station.