We Are Lady Parts: A hilariously anarchic Muslim punk sitcom
“I’m just a girl, standing in front of my community elders, asking for a gig,” utters Momtaz, the veiled, vape smoking manager of the eponymous all-female, Muslim punk group of Channel 4’s latest comedy series.
That’s just one of the nods to British rom-coms, like Notting Hill, viewers can expect in We Are Lady Parts but instead of the usual romantic white faces leading proceedings, creator, writer and director Nida Manzoor is dismantling the Muslim woman monolith by serving up several brown and black rebel girls to mosh with.
British women of Middle Eastern, African and South Asian heritage are so often positioned in the margins of British TV so it’s refreshing to see this six-part series, expanded from the 2018 short feature that appeared as part of Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps programming and inspired by Manzoor’s own life, put five front and centre.
Instead of the usual romantic white faces leading proceedings, creator, writer and director Nida Manzoor is dismantling the Muslim woman monolith by serving up several brown and black rebel girls to mosh with
The story follows a band of London musicians who are united by more than just their prayer mats and penchant for anarchic lyrics.
With the support of Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse) and under the leadership of tattooed lead vocalist and guitarist Zaira (Sarah Kameela Impey), WALP is on the hunt for a new guitarist to help them pull apart the stereotypes associated with their religion, culture and womanhood through their sweary, screamy and provocative music.
Against a vibrant, stylised backdrop of innercity life, the core cast deliver their characters with such humour and empathy it’s easy to become invested in both their romantic and musical exploits as well as their sisterly chemistry
Zaira reckons they need an additional member to take their sound to the next level and perform gigs outside of her bedsit, while the band’s queer, hard-nosed drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) and Earth Mother bassist Bisma (Faith Omole) are reluctant to bring an outsider into their collective.
However, that soon changes when they meet timorous PhD student Amina (Anjana Vasan) who knows her way around a guitar solo but is far too anxiety-ridden to shred in front of an actual audience. But as Amina begins to find herself, her voice and her confidence with the no-nonsense band, she struggles to coalesce the punk side of her personality with the romantic who is increasingly influenced to believe that any stench of the former is haram and will ultimately do harm to her marital prospects.
With a Bridget Jones-esque voiceover, each episode invites the viewer into Amina’s world and her mind, which often veers into fantasy territory as she thirsts over would-be suitors with “the shoulders of a Mesopotamian warlord” or despairs about her future to the tune of Radiohead’s “Creep” in a university common room.
Viewers certainly won’t be disappointed with the exuberant use of music in the series; when the band aren’t ripping apart and repurposing the language of subordination and prejudice against Muslim women through such original bangers as Honour Killing and Voldemort Under My Head Scarf, the girls are headbanging to System of a Down or having a sing-along to The Proclaimers.
Against a vibrant, stylised backdrop of inner-city life, the core cast delivers their characters with such humour and empathy it’s easy to become invested in both their romantic and musical exploits as well as their sisterly chemistry. Impey especially impresses. She calcifies Zaira’s determined autonomy with such blunt audacity and feminist rage that when she does let the walls down, her melancholy distils deeper understanding to the motivations that often puts her non-conformist attitude at odds with the people who love her most.
Manzoor has created a thoroughly modern, relevant and witty celebration of feminine individualism, sisterhood and community
The supporting cast is just as special with Aiysha Hart (A Discovery of Witches, Line of Duty) playing Amina’s queen bee best mate with the right balance of superiority and sweetness. While EastEnders fans of the ‘90s will recognise Amina’s mum Seema (Shobu Kapoor) and warm to her progressive parenting which sees her playfully encourage her daughter to live the life she couldn’t because of her own strict parents.
The series has a Bhaji on the Beach meets The Bisexual quality in the way it uses comedy with a smidge of drama to subvert expectations of brown women especially ones who believe in the empowerment of women as much as they believe in God.
These positions are not mutually exclusive and through the riotous songs and relatable acts of this punk rock quintet, We Are Lady Parts doesn’t just make that statement, it screams it.
Manzoor has created a thoroughly modern, relevant and witty celebration of feminine individualism, sisterhood and community; a bold and bright series that engages with the diversity of Britishness, womanhood, romance, culture and religion with care, consideration but the determination to represent more than just one-note characters and interrogate dated stereotype.
So whether you’re religious or agnostic, itching to get married or keep it chill, rock out to Slip Knot, Simon & Garfunkel, or both, wear a niqab, hijab or nothing at all, We Are Lady Parts ticks all the right boxes.
Hanna Flint is a freelance film and TV critic, writer and interviewer who writes for The Guardian, Total Film, Time Out, Syfy, Yahoo Movies, SyFy and other international outlets.
Follow her here: @HannaFlint