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Peacock's We Are Lady Parts captures the intersectionality and interiority long denied Muslim women in Hollywood productions

  • "Picture this: A fictional group of five women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and social classes, of different ages and sexual identities, and with different family dynamics and fashion preferences, form a tight bond of long-lasting friendship that survives all kinds of hardship and conflict," Roxana Hadidi says of the Peacock comedy commissioned by Britain's Channel 4. "They know each other’s love interests, favorite songs, and most shameful childhood memories. They cook together, shop together, and get high together. They fight, they make up, they razz each other, and they love each other. Maybe you’re picturing the women of Sex and the City, The L Word, Living Single, and The Bold Type, or the teens of Never Have I Ever and Pen15. But chances are you’re not thinking of the rowdy, irreverent, devout, and thoughtful Muslims of Nida Manzoor’s new series We Are Lady Parts. Muslim women haven’t looked like this on American TV before. South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Black, some covered in tattoos and wearing hijabs, most fans of punk rock, and all very aware of the stereotypes and assumptions through which people see them, both inside and outside of their community. What We Are Lady Parts captures so astutely is the intersectionality and interiority long denied Muslim women in Hollywood productions. The members of the punk band Lady Parts talk politics (Boris Johnson: 'worse than wank'), evoke Wayne’s World while exuberantly singing along to The Proclaimers’s 'I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)' in a cramped car, cheer each other on at open-mic poetry nights, and hang out on double dates. The delight these women experience while in each other’s company is infectious—and doesn’t stop when they pause band practice to lay down their prayer rugs, or trade stories about embarrassing moments at the mosque, or argue about whether Muslim men look better with beards. While following the members of Lady Parts as they struggle to succeed as a band, the series underscores that the self-actualization of these women is strengthened, rather than hampered, by their personalized interpretations of Muslim faith. That traditionalism-meets-progressivism mashup is intentional from the show’s first minutes, and is best encapsulated in the introduction of Lady Parts’ band manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse). While bedecked in a perfectly coordinated niqāb and burqa, she slamdances her way around the group’s basement rehearsal space, gestures emphatically with a joint, and smooths over a band disagreement with a quippy 'Feminism, innit?' Perhaps a component of the transgressive success of We Are Lady Parts is that it was actually created outside of the U.S., filmed entirely in the UK by British Pakistani creator, director, and writer Manzoor."

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    • We Are Lady Parts is an edgy blend of punk-rock feminism, whimsical humor, head-banging tunes, and relatable tales of romance and friendship: "We Are Lady Parts... follows a fairly standard story-of-a-band narrative: The meeting, the struggle, the triumph, the career-threatening disaster," says Kristen Baldwin. "Still, the series itself is charmingly original. As different as Amina is from Saira and the rest of Lady Parts — nurturing bassist Bisma (Faith Omole), combative drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed), and their mysterious, niqab-wearing manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse) — they're all Muslim women who are chafing against expectations, both society's and their own. They don't sing in a band to mock their religion; all of them respect and follow Islam. Lady Parts makes music to remind the world that they're not your typical Muslim girls — because there is no such thing."
    • We Are Lady Parts is most reminiscent of Fleabag: "Even though the subjects and characters in these British series diverge significantly, Manzoor’s work, like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s, has a rom-com lightness, a decidedly female gaze, and embraces fun without seeming frivolous," says Jen Chaney. "For all its familiar touchstones, We Are Lady Parts also feels like something I haven’t quite seen before, in the same way that Fleabag felt. We Are Lady Parts takes all the clichés about women in hijab being uniformly submissive or oppressed and immediately kicks them to the curb with the toe of a Doc Marten boot."
    • Make no mistake: This is a very funny show, with a cast of versatile and game performers: "Representation matters in storytelling for reasons both altruistic and practical," says Alan Sepinwall. "It’s a fundamental social good for audiences to encounter people who look and talk like them in the stories they consume, and also for people from other groups to be exposed to characters who aren’t at all like themselves. But making TV shows and movies and books about the kinds of characters who aren’t usually featured in them is also smart creatively. It can often breathe new life into every stale plot twist simply because of the nature of the people involved. ABC made a lot of comedic hay in the 2010s with shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless, where creaky sitcom hijinks suddenly felt novel because no one had told them through the eyes of first-generation Taiwanese-Americans or a special needs family, respectively. We Are Lady Parts has its moments of everything old being new again, like when the band’s would-be lead guitarist Amina (Anjana Vasan) asks a platonic male friend to pretend to be her date at an engagement party, then realizes that they’re acting out the plot of the Debra Messing movie The Wedding Date. But the backgrounds of Amina, Saira, and their bandmates — surly drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed), gentle bassist Bisma (Faith Omole), and ruthless manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse) — create comic tension in nearly every scene."
    • What's remarkable is that We Are Lady Parts' first depiction of misogyny and Islamophobia doesn't come until two-thirds through the first episode: "That’s not to say that the five young women at the center of this show live in some untroubled fantasy-land, or that they don’t struggle over how to navigate their hybrid identities," says Judy Berman. "But creator Nida Manzoor, who wrote and directed the entire six-episode season, understands that it’s possible to tell a culturally specific story without reducing the experiences of so many discrete characters to a constant confrontation with politicized adversity."
    • We Are Lady Parts is not always laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s sharp and quick witted: "The performances — dynamic, confident, seamless in hitting different emotional beats — also add to the show’s affecting quality," says Lovia Gyarkye. "Impey, in particular, is outstanding as the moody, passionate lead singer, whose commitment to the band is partially fueled by, and cover for, the isolation she feels in other areas of her life. Moving effortlessly from steely stares and harsh delivery to ambivalence and vulnerability, the actress steals almost every scene she’s in. In interviews and columns about We Are Lady Parts, Manzoor, who directed the first season of the British comedy series Enterprice as well as episodes of Doctor Who, lingers on the weight of representation: With so few depictions of Muslim women on screen, her show felt saddled with a responsibility to do the characters justice, to give voice to a people. That, of course, is a trap — representation can be the beginning, but never the end. Historically marginalized people shouldn’t exist as ideological placeholders. Manzoor largely avoids that fate in We Are Lady Parts by crafting characters whose journeys to punk are complemented by their relationship to their religion, not necessarily at odds with it. Here, Islam is not merely a plot device, a constraint-filled, monolithic faith from which Amina must escape. Rather, the questions Amina asks herself as a 20-something sorting through her identity are more complicated: How can she express herself in a way that honors her existing beliefs and her burgeoning interest in punk music?  What are the limits, how can she shatter them and is it worth it? We Are Lady Parts might have explored these nuances a bit more, but that’s just another reason why it deserves a second season."
    • It's pretty amazing that We Are Lady Parts is premiering amid The Linda Lindas' viral exposure: In fact, We Are Lady Parts premieres on Peacock on the same day that The Linda Lindas are making their TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! "Call it luck or call it kismet, but Peacock's debuting We Are Lady Parts in close proximity to kiddie punk band The Linda Lindas achieving viral exposure with their hit 'Racist Sexist Boy' is a beautiful thing," says Melanie McFarland. "In The Linda Lindas we have an L.A.-based group enjoying the kind of mass appeal punk usually doesn't, save for a group like Green Day. Like so many other purveyors of fast 'n' loud tunes, that band consists of a bunch of white dudes while The Linda Lindas are Asian and Latinx girls between the ages of 10 and 16 who write their own songs, whose singles slap hard and – as we saw in the film Moxie – can rip the hell out of a Bikini Kill cover. Someday the quartet may also inspire a Broadway musical; who knows? For the time being they're winning the all-important battle of having their greatness be noticed and appreciated. There's absolutely nothing quite like Lady Parts either, a fictional five-woman punk band whose members are Muslim and whose manifesto, written by lead singer and guitarist Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey) is 'We're sisters who pray together, play together, speaking our truth to whoever can be asked to listen.' Roaring alongside her are the band's drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) and the endlessly positive Bisha (Faith Omole), with manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse) hustling on their behalf and flaunting her niqab like armor. These are highly charismatic weavers of distortion and raw power, singing out their frustrations and glorying in their outsider status which such tongue-in-cheek ditties as 'Voldemort's Alive, And He's Under My Headscarf.'"
    • There’s a clear charm in seeing the points where the music and whatever surrounds it line up in harmony: "Playful with enough flair and distinct twists to shake up its more familiar pieces, We Are Lady Parts is an energetic merging of aspiring artists and the fictional frame that presents them," says Steve Greene. "For Lady Parts, those harmonies aren’t always tidy: They’re a punk quartet filling up any kind of rehearsal space with as much sound as the room can handle."
    • We Are Lady Parts comprises only six half-hour episodes, but manages to pack a punch with its fast-paced, comprehensive storytelling and cogent, comical writing: "We Are Lady Parts threads the difficult needle of embracing its characters’ ethnicities, seamlessly weaving them into distinctive backstories, points-of-view, and aspirations," says Saloni Gajjar. "Behind each of their musical dreams lies a deeply understandable journey of passion and self-discovery explored through a heartwarming lens. (Creator Nida) Manzoor has said that the show is somewhat autobiographical, and she’s co-written Lady Parts' mostly brash, energetic songs with siblings Shez and Sanya Manzoor (along with Benjamin Fregin). This brings a sincere amount of realism to the show, which avoids portraying its women in stereotypical or familiar ways that usually cater to a primarily white audience, thanks to accurate representation behind the camera as well."
    • We Are Lady Parts is a perfect example of how powerful and universal a story can be when it really lives with the specifics: "Each detail of these characters' daily lives helps to create a new level of relatability," says Liz Shannon Miller. "I cannot say I've ever lived the experience of being a young Muslim woman playing in a London punk band, but I do know how it feels, that need to sometimes scream out loud. Everyone does, really. The girls of We Are Lady Parts just happen to do it into a microphone, accompanied by some sick guitar licks."

    TOPICS: We Are Lady Parts, Channel 4, Peacock, Nida Manzoor




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