We Are Lady Parts is available to stream on Neon
We Are Lady Parts is available to stream on Neon

Pop CultureSeptember 23, 2021

The gutsy authenticity of We Are Lady Parts

We Are Lady Parts is available to stream on Neon
We Are Lady Parts is available to stream on Neon

Ronia Ibrahim reflects on the fearlessness of We Are Lady Parts, the comedy series about an all women Muslim punk band that hilariously smashes tired tropes. 

I’m one of those people who you might describe as “prudish” or “conservative” type. “Frick” is an unironic part of my vocabulary, and I struggle to say the word “sex” or “boyfriend” without flinching. R16 movies make me wary, and I still have never tried a V. So how did I end up watching a TV show about an all female Muslim punk band, titled We Are Lady Parts?

Well, the honest answer is embarrassing (TikTok and a period of misandry-related grief), but let’s just say, in this state of the things, I decided to cheer myself up by consuming some edgy content. Also, if the world is ending I may as well not be ashamed of trying to be woke, dammit. But perhaps I wasn’t being as indie as I thought – this show was recently nominated for Best Comedy Series at the Edinburgh TV Festival. It’s also got a 100% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This is weird to me because We Are Lady Parts seems like a niche show, with an ensemble of BIPOC actors and a premise that feels very unconventional.

The show is about an all Muslim-female punk band called Lady Parts, who are trying to make a name for themselves in the music scene. Going into it, I was apprehensive for two reasons. Representation of Muslim women in Hollywood is already infamously abysmal: sad girl takes off her hijab for the aggressively mediocre white boy, as she struggles to connect with her strict religion and ruthless immigrant parents (who are like, always forcing her to get married, or something). The last time I had hope was watching Apple TV’s Hala, which made me cry with disappointment at its rehash of this terrible character trope.

The second reason I was apprehensive is that this show’s premise is almost deliberately provocative. Punk and Muslim are basically opposing identities. The former is seen as violent, profane and unhinged, the latter is a religion that values modesty, peace, and prayer. Furthermore, the show features and discusses music, queerness, dating, smoking, and tattoos – all big taboos in Islam, so I was wary of how it might be represented and the potential response from Muslim viewers. We don’t like to admit it, but Muslims can be really superficial. There’s a troubling problem within our community of cyberbullying and bashing each other (women in particular) for how religious or non-religious we present ourselves. For a faith that is already so heavily misrepresented, or just plain missing in the media, our appearances can be taken as blasphemy just for existing.

All that considered, the moment I realised that this was going to be a good show was in one of the show’s featured songs, ‘Bashir with a Good Beard’. The lyrics expose and challenge the misogyny that exists within our community: “Are my clothes too tight? Do I laugh too much? You I say I’m not polite, I say fuck you very much!” Hearing this, I exhaled with a mix of relief, nervous laughter, and empowerment. The show feels fearless in acknowledging the elephant in the room that is the internal conflicts and issues within the Muslim community. While it was shocking at first, I slowly realised how refreshing it felt to watch a narrative that finally felt authentic.

Lady Parts is written by a Muslim-Pakistani woman, Nida Manzoor, which really makes sense when you look at just how rich and real the characters feel. Manzoor manages to challenge the idea of being a Muslim woman in 21st century Britain, and execute it without being overtly #girlboss. The band is made up of a diverse set of women who come from different ethnic, career, and family backgrounds. Saira, my favourite, is the mega-angsty but secretly soft-hearted leader of the band; Bisma is Nigerian, a mother and zine-maker; Ayesha, the sharp-tongued, crazy eyeliner-wearing drummer; Momtaz – the band’s producer – a niqabi (someone who wears a niqab or “burqa”) who vapes, which I find both hilarious and badass.

The show’s protagonist, though, is Amina, the lead guitarist. Geeky, a hopeless romantic, and a little bit socially awkward, Amina just wants to be the good Muslim girl her peers expect her to be, which means to settle down and marry a good Muslim guy. Her determination to find a husband is a hilarious but all too familiar ordeal of falling for disappointing men, glorifying connected beards, and obsessing over Muslim dating apps. When she joins Lady Parts, however, her life becomes a balancing act as she struggles to maintain an undercover punk identity with the expectation of being a “good” Muslim girl.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never encountered any of these types of women in real life, but they each prove to me that the Muslim experience, especially the Muslim woman’s experience, is extremely diverse, and much of our stories are yet to be told. Some viewers aren’t going to be happy with these representations or the premise of the show, but others are going to feel seen for the first time. Just as the show is bound to spark criticism from being not properly “Muslim” or “Islamic”, the band and its members deal with external backlash and internal dilemma of managing faith, identity, and societal pressure. Low-key, it’s real meta.

In an interview with Variety, Manzoor reflects on her experience writing the characters. “I realized […] I can only speak from my truth and represent the women I know.” She says most of her character inspiration came from real life, from “art collectives, poetry readings, or musicians”. Finding inspiration from real women provided a sense of freedom to really develop an authentic narrative and voice for the show, despite not everyone relating or agreeing. “In a way, having that slightly mixed feedback made me realise that I couldn’t possibly represent everyone, and what I have found so much joy in doing is speaking my own truth and connecting with the people who this does speak to.”

While we often think of representation as a matter of being seen, I think there’s also room for conversation around the importance of seeing. It’s so easy for the criteria of representation to be superficial, but this has got guts. I was surprised that a show with so many inside jokes could appeal to a broad audience, but seeing the likes of film reviewer Kate Rodger raving about it proves that it can occupy the marginalia and mainstream. Part of me wants to keep the show to myself for its wonderful characters and stories that feel so rich and personal. Watching these different characters on screen reminds me that not all Muslim women carry their identity the same. Though we come from different places and pathways, our common thread is always sisterhood.

This season is only six 25-minute episodes but it’s still jam-packed with stunning performances, fun set designs, a snappy plot line and cool editing. The songs – my personal favourites being ‘Voldemort Under My Headscarf’ and ‘Ain’t No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister But Me’ – are hilarious. Head-banging at home to these anthems has also taught me that punk is more than just an edgy music genre, but a medium for self-expression. It’s got the guise of being anarchic, while actually being really fun.

While some of the Gen Z humour and slightly exaggerated acting did throw me off at times, for the most part I couldn’t stop grinning at my screen. We Are Lady Parts is currently available on Neon. I think you should stream it. It’s fricking good.

We Are Lady Parts is streaming now.

Keep going!