With its second season launching globally on Netfix this year, ‘THE 99’ animation series has become an internationally acclaimed celebration of diversity. Its creator, Kuwaiti academic Naif Al-Mutawa, explains how these 99 Islam-inspired superheroes are building tolerance across borders.
Do you remember the exact moment the idea came up?
THE 99 was born in a London cab in the summer of 2003. I had a PhD and three masters degrees and didn’t know what to do with them. My sister turned to me and asked if I was going to go back to writing for children.
I began to think about how my Islam was being portrayed as a religion of violence, and I thought: what if I can associate it with positive things like comic books, theme parks and animation? At the end of that cab ride, I turned to my sister and said, “What do you think of this?”
Why are comic heroes important in building a pluralistic society?
I think that it is important for all cultures to be proactive in telling their stories. If a culture is not proactive, they get written in as the bad guy in some other culture’s story. The only way to balance that out is to tell their own stories. Diversity is something that needs to be shown, not told.
Beyond each of THE 99’s individual missions, they are all together on a greater mission to deconstruct stereotypes. In that sense, what’s their most rewarding achievement?
In 2010, US President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he praised THE 99’s new crossover series with DC Comics’ Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League of America as one of the most innovative responses to his Cairo speech, in which he called for a “new beginning” in ties between the US and the Muslim world.
If you had to choose a superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation. For someone who travels as much as I do, it would be a handy superpower to have!
And which of The 99 is your personal favorite?
I love all my children the same!
For more information — The 99’s Facebook Page.