“It can’t just be my voice, it has to be loads of Muslim female voices coming in, taking up different spaces and speaking different truths, because there isn’t one truth. And, actually, Lady Parts is about fighting to have the confidence to speak.” Nida Manzoor
Media companies are at last realising that by promoting diverse talent, we get better films, TV programmes, books and news. We Are Lady Parts is a new TV series currently on Channel 4 in the UK, streaming via Peacock in the US and Stan in Australia. Canadian viewers will see it on 9th June when it premieres on Showcase. If you live in a modern UK city, you’ll recognise the setting – the pubs, dating, working hard and playing hard in a fast-paced world where, as young Muslim women you link into many different realities, including constantly batting off the stereotypes about Muslim women that come from all directions.
Punkgirldiaries is reviewing Nida Manzoor’s new series because it’s about a punk band – Lady Parts – formed by Muslim women. We’re not the best commentators on scriptwriting, TV acting or the portrayal of Muslim people but we do feel qualified to chat about punk bands, music and women in bands, so here goes … The series includes original music created by Nida Manzoor along with sister, Shez and brother Sanya plus Benni Freggin. The actors all play their instruments (following a bit of coaching) and the band sections of the programme are spirited and well-written. Nida already has directorial credits including Dr Who and Enterprice, and has said that she took creative inspiration for We are Lady Parts from The Young Ones and Spinal Tap. There are, indeed some fantasy sequences, puppets and full-on song lyrics that add to this impression, and iconic old tracks are used to good effect – Radiohead’s Creep, The Proclaimers I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), Queen’s We Are The Champions and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5.
In an interview with Rob Hakimian, Nida explains that she wanted to expand the narrow field when it comes to the portrayal of Muslim women in drama:
“I thought if I was going to look at this aspect of my identity I’d want to do a show on Muslim women that’s funny, because that’s so important. It takes away your humanity when you’re shown not to have any sense of humour, and all the Muslims I know are hilarious,” she affirms. “And I wanted it to be about music, because I love music.”
Like other recent British comedy dramas, the series develops a wryness and some deeper emotional dilemmas that run alongside the songs, the slapstick of meat cleavers and white people getting uber rides from the no-nonsense Ayesha. The song lyrics also lash out at the stereotypes – “Kill My Sister”, “Voldemort Under My Headscarf ” and “Bashir with a Good Beard”. One rousing chorus is “POC … BAME … still fish and chips for tea”. The main story lines are the relative pulls of the camaraderie and creative outlet of Lady Parts pitted against careers, love, family and the heavy expectations of others. There are awkward questions, deceptions, disastrous dates, a range of parenting styles and a poignant scene where Saira, “my good girl” reads the NME to her much-missed sister.
Then there’s the necessary rock clichés that go with all films about bands forming and quickly becoming super popular. We Are Lady Parts does have one bad gig, when social media influencer Zarina has them playing to the sour blokes at an ‘English pub’ for a reaction, and then writes about ‘The Bad Girls of Islam’ for a viral response. The other rehearsals and gigs in the series do have that impossibly marvellous balanced sound where everyone instantly and exaggeratedly grooves to the band.
In the Lady Parts story, the viral social media backlash against the band is partly inspired by the response that Nida Manzoor received after a pilot programme was broadcast in 2018, where she was criticised for misrepresenting or mocking Islam. It did cause some reflection, but the pilot received a quarter of a million views and plenty of positive responses, too, so Nida takes that view that she alone cannot represent the whole of a community or faith group. We really enjoyed and recommend We Are Lady Parts – it’s another step forward with diversity and representation – and it’s genuinely entertaining, funny and insightful. We can now look forward to more TV drama and comedy about music, Muslim women and any other unlikely punk rockers out there.
We Are Lady Parts continues on UK Channel 4 on Thursdays until 24th June and is available to stream from All 4, Peacock, Stan, Showcase and Sky New Zealand.