The wonderful new series We Are Lady Parts is Peacock’s second series about an all-female musical group. Released within the same month as the (more heavily marketed) Girls5Eva, it’s understandable that some people would be inclined to compare them to one another. It’s unnecessary, however, since there’s plenty of room for both of these shows to exist in the world. Although the two shows couldn’t be more different, what makes We Are Lady Parts stand out is that it not only sets itself apart from its neighboring music-based sitcom but from damn near anything else currently airing on U.S. television.
Amina Hussein (Anjana Vasan), a shy and slightly awkward 24-year-old Ph.D. student, mostly fashions her life around the whims and desires of her social circle. But when she isn’t tied up in her coursework or trying to meet a potential husband, she secretly obsesses over music, especially American singer-songwriter Don McLean. The closest she gets to rocking out, however, is through a side gig teaching guitar to teens. One day, Amina crosses paths with a gnarly all-Muslim punk band, Lady Parts, and her sense of loyalty and compulsive need to hold on to her former life winds up at odds with her growing passion for punk music, along with the person she slowly finds herself becoming.
The trio that makes up Lady Parts is an assortment of women brought together through their shared faith and friendship (and are basically the coolest people ever). As Saira (the outstanding Sarah Kameela Impey), the tough-as-nails lead vocalist puts it, “We’re sisters who pray together, play together, speaking our truth to whoever can be asked to listen.” Her passion for the band is the glue that holds them together, and what drives her to bring the anxious Amina out of her shell. Although Saira’s priority is for the band to obtain a lead guitarist in the hopes of winning a local music competition—a chance she wants badly enough that her first attempt at reeling Amina is a manipulative attempt to use her crush on handsome fellow student Ahsan (Zaqi Ismail)—she’s able to see Amina’s potential even when no one else, Amina included, can. Unfortunately, those emotional overtures don’t extend out to the rest of Saira’s personal life, including her relationship with the far more emotionally available Abdullah (David Avery). Although director/writer/creator Nida Manzoor establishes Amina as the show’s narrator, a decision that provides ample opportunity for the show’s occasional fantasy detours (complete with music breaks and film nods), Manzoor gives plenty of space in the storyline to explore Saira’s emotionally complicated landscape.
The remaining members of Lady Parts get their moments to shine as well, an impressive feat considering that the show clocks in at a lean six episodes, not even a full three hours (which may or may not please you bingers out there). Ayesha (Juliette Motamed), the group’s prickly drummer, may seem like a human cactus with bitchin’ eyeliner, but underneath the eye-rolling attitude lies the heart of a helpless romantic. Bisma (Faith Omole) is their bassist and most well-rounded member of the group; though she’s a wife and mother, she also manages to pursue her creative work which, aside from her music, centers around her dystopian comic book “The Killing Period [Apocalypse Vag]” about women who are incited to kill when they menstruate. As Bisma says, “Think Handmaid’s Tale meets Rugrats, mm?”
Where can I buy this? Asking for a friend.
Then there’s Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), the aspiring music mogul who operates as the band manager while working a day job at a lingerie store. In a show filled with the sort of characters who generally get little quality screentime (re: Black and brown Muslim women), she’s especially interesting, as Momtaz wears a niqāb, a garment that covers the wearer leaving only the eyes and hands visible. It’s an article of clothing that is deeply misunderstood—often to the point of derision—even among those who perceive themselves as being more progressively minded. It’s worthy of remark, as I struggle to think of any sort of representation like this that isn’t outright offensive, never mind portrayed by someone who gets to be funny, ambitious, and alluring all at the same time. Momtaz’s choice to wear the niqāb is never dwelled on, save for one brief scene when she’s outright asked by an interviewer. Her response is elegant yet insightful, as she explains that she wears it as a means of getting closer to God, “but also wearing it makes me feel confident, like Queen Nefertiti or Beyoncé.” This shouldn’t feel this groundbreaking in 2021, but in a country that still has so many misconceptions—and xenophobia, bigotry, etc.—regarding the Islamic faith, seeing a woman choosing to observe this practice and not having it be a source of conflict is refreshing on a level I’ve yet to encounter.
Indeed, one of the best things about the series is that nearly all of the major conflict emerges from sources beyond what’s expected from these stories. You’re not going to find regressive parents trying to stifle their children’s dreams or racists spraying hate-spittle gifted with far too much sympathetic backstory here; without going into too much detail, the conflict emerges from a far more interesting source that tackles issues complicated enough to be worthy of its own essay. The choice to opt out of the usual strife found in fictional depiction of Muslims—which almost always manages to center white people anyway, somehow—is a fantastic one, as it allows the drama to revolve around the most important element: the kick-ass music.
With provocative song titles such as “Ain’t No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister But Me,” and “Voldemort Under My Headscarf,” Lady Parts confront other people’s assumptions head on. Their lyrics brilliantly combine their outlook and identities (“I’m a POC / BAME / DOA PTSD / Broken by the empire, raised by MTV / But still, it’s fish and chips for tea!”). Upending stereotypes by grinding them into an amp to spit back at the face of an audience guilty of lobbing them out in the first place is probably the most punk thing possible. And for the curious, yes, the soundtrack is available to purchase.
Even for those who don’t identify with punk music, watching someone like Amina struggle through the creative process is an amazing and sympathy-inducing journey. I don’t care if you make music, paint, or do ventriloquy, there’s a damn good chance that hearing Amina downplay her musical abilities by protesting, “No, I don’t play, I just teach,” is gonna strike a chord (no pun intended). You can’t help but smile when she finally begins to (haltingly) shred on the guitar during the group’s first band practice. When she finally fully gives in to the feeling, it’s ecstatic; she’s bathed in a literal spotlight as everything else grows dark around her, just a person achieving creative flow, that blessed sensation that eludes us all too often because we’re busy being gripped by fear instead. True to life, that triumphant moment ends with a familiar sentiment of humility, as a thrilled Saira proclaims, “Amina, that was sick, man,” only for Amina to sweetly brush it off: “It was alright.”
We Are Lady Parts isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen before. It dances along the tightrope of universal storytelling while delivering it through characters that rarely get to embody so many facets of being human. Muslim women are often used as shorthand for Western commentary on the Middle East (typically as victims of oppression, sometimes as perpetrators) or unnuanced feel-good moments catering to white perspectives (all of those easily lost hijabs, my goodness). They don’t get to have crushes or performance jitters or whimsical fantasy sequences, which is not only a disservice to the Muslim community but for the rest of us as well. We deserve at least twenty more We Are Lady Parts on our screens, especially since we’ve been deprived of who knows how many of them over the years. This is my favorite feel-good comedy of the year, and my only real complaint is we don’t have hours more of it. It’s still too early to know what the plans are for a second season, but I dearly hope we get to see Amina, Saira, Bisma, Ayesha, and Momtaz rock out again.
Season one of We Are Lady Parts is streaming on Peacock.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor of Pajiba. When she isn’t blaring Lady Parts’s punk rendition of ‘9 to 5’ in her ride, she can be found on Twitter here.
Header Image Source: Peacock