We Are Lady Parts

I’m a pop culture buff, but I don’t usually write about television. Recently a television show came along, though, that has made me want to enthuse about it to anyone who will listen. I’m talking about “We Are Lady Parts”, originally aired on Channel 4 in the UK and now on Peacock in the US.

This show is created by British television writer Nida Manzoor, and it’s a six-part comedy musical series that follows the highs and lows of a punk feminist Muslim band in East London.

“Hang on, Bina. Did you say a punk feminist MUSLIM band?”

“Why yes, yes I did.”

“But aren’t all Muslim women oppressed victims who can only breathe if their husbands allow it?”

Yeah. Sure.

The premise: Saira, Ayesha, Bisma and their manager Momtaz are looking for a lead guitarist so they can enter the Sound Smash audition and be catapulted into fame and glory. They’re loud, brash, joyously feminine and proudly Muslim. Saira (Sarah Impey) is a butcher by day, bassist by night, a rebellious daughter who’s left home to pursue her own life. Bisma (Faith Omole), who plays rhythm guitar and performs backing vocals, is a married woman with a young daughter and a devilish screaming voice used to great effect onstage. Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) is the drummer, a British-Iraqi goth with magnificent winged eyeliner and a hunky brother — and a secret. Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse) wears a full niqab behind which she smokes various substances with flair.

Enter Amina (Anjana Vasan), a nerdy PhD microbiology student at Queen Mary University who only teaches guitar because performing induces “nausea and vomiting.” The girls rope her into auditioning, using Ayesha’s handsome brother as a lure. Meanwhile, Amina rolls with a gang of the most judgmental Muslim women you could ever hope to see in Walthamstowe. Therefore she must keep her band life a secret — even though her parents are totally supportive of her musical endeavours.

With hysterically funny original songs written by Manzoor and her siblings, the show aims to take every stereotype of Muslim women and turn them inside out, let alone upside down. Subversive doesn’t even begin to cover it, with songs like “Ain’t No One Gonna Honor Kill My Sister But Me” and “Voldemort Under My Headscarf”.

I’m gonna kill my sister [Go on then!]
This ain’t about you, it’s between her and me
She stole my eyeliner [What a bitch]
And she’s been stretching my shoes out with her fucking big feet

It’s an honour killing, it’s an honour killing
It’s an honour killing, it’s an honour killing

I’m gonna kill my sister [Die, die, die
Do you wanna kill her, mister? [She’s mine, mine, mine]

I’m gonna kill my sister [Die, die, die
Do you wanna kill her, mister? [She’s mine motherfucker]

The show shows the young women using their voices in every way — singing, growling, screaming, whispering, cheering, laughing. (A scene where Amina performs at a spoken word event as a way of getting over her stage fright had my stomach in knots, so palpable was Amina’s terror). These are not quiet, oppressed, timid Muslim ciphers. They’re loud and proud. They argue, fight, express themselves, enjoy themselves. As Muslim women do in real life.

Visually, the show’s a treat too: each woman has her own unique fashion style, from Amina’s play-it-safe pastel hijabs and conservative casuals, to Saira’s Seattle vibe, to Bisma’s African-style turbans and Ayesha’s goth-meets-abaya chic. Momtaz is a stand-out with her black ensemble, cutoff finger gloves, motorcycle boots and jewelry. These women command attention wherever they go, and why not? They’re striking, colorful, beautiful in their own unique way, not the plastic Barbie doll botoxed-to-heaven husband-attracting perfection that so many Muslim girls are influenced by (Huda Beauty, I wasn’t talking about you, okay?).

Amina’s dilemma is every Muslim girl’s dilemma in today’s world: the pull of career and of individualism vs society and family expectations to keep a low profile and find a nice husband. Manzoor milks this for every ounce of comedy it’s got, but never in a cheesy or tired way. The jokes are fresh, the situations awkward, the spirit is bold. The F-word is thrown around liberally by the punks, while the Muslim Mean Girls are portrayed as so uptight they might actually explode under the weight of their own high standards.

Because the episodes are only 25 minutes long, the energy stays high as the show bounces along; there are only a few dull moments or places where the jokes fall flat. But the acting skills of the leads, notably Anjana Vasan and Sarah Impey, keep you mesmerized the whole time. Saira especially carries an intensity and anger that is particularly compelling to watch.

Funny, irreverent and sincere, We Are Lady Parts is a show to treasure. When I was in college (university for you British people), I played keyboards in a band with a couple of friends, but I was the only Muslim and we were really, really bad. I wish Lady Parts had been around back then; I would have played keyboards with them, and we would have completely rocked it. And then we would’ve gone and said our prayers together.

Saira recites Speak, For Your Lips Are Still Free by Faiz Ahmed Faiz at the spoken word event where Amina has a meltdown