Review: We Are Lady Parts is the feminist Muslim punk-rock comedy we all need
Nida Manzoor's warm, pointed sitcom is full of cinematic style and entertaining as hell
WE ARE LADY PARTS (Nida Manzoor). New episodes Wednesdays at 9 pm and 9:35 pm on Showcase, and streaming on the Global TV app. Rating: NNNNN
We Are Lady Parts is a lot of things: exhilarating, witty, funny, scabrous, pointed, punk, sadly relevant and absolutely necessary. It’s entertaining as hell, with a lively cast and a vivid, cinematic style.
It’s also a show about Muslim women in London, England, which means that any coverage of it this week has to acknowledge the climate into which it arrives, just days after a horrific truck attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario. One almost braces for hand-wringing columns in certain newspaper chains, wondering whether Canadians are going to want to watch a show about five women in their 20s – one of whom wears a niqab! – trying to launch a punk band at this delicate time.
Or maybe it’s exactly the right time for a comedy that sees these characters as individuals who exist within a larger culture, and represent no one but themselves. The genius of writer/producer/director Nida Manzoor’s show is that it doesn’t attempt to speak for all Muslims any more than it wants to speak for all women, or all Londoners. It’s a comedy about talented people trying to get on the same page, and if you can’t connect to that, I don’t know why you’re watching television.
The show is narrated by Amina (Anjana Vasan), a gifted musician with crushing performance anxiety. Audiences make her throw up, so she mostly directs her energy into teaching kids at the local community centre – until she crosses paths with Lady Parts, a punk band in desperate need of a lead guitarist.
The members of Lady Parts are all women, and all Muslim: furious lead vocalist Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), comic-book-creating bassist Bisma (Faith Omole), drummer and lyricist Ayesha (Juliette Motamed). They’re managed by social-media savvy Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), who’s convinced the band could be big if they can just land the right Instagram influencer or win the right showcase. Assuming Amina can play a showcase without having a full-blown panic attack, of course.
The stakes thus established, We Are Lady Parts rockets off in a dozen different directions, weaving the band’s various storylines around and even into one another. Amina, who wants a traditional Muslim trajectory of marriage and children, has a massive crush on Ayesha’s brother Asan (Zaqi Ismail), and their awkward courtship forces the more progressive Saira to confront her own intimacy issues with her boyfriend Abdullah (David Avery). Bisma, Ayesha and Momtaz have their own things going on as well, though it takes a few episodes to get to them.
Most of the cast will be unfamiliar to Canadian audiences, though Vasan had small roles in Spider-Man: Far From Home and Disney’s live-action remake of Cinderella. She’s an instantly winning lead, expressing Amina’s neuroses through her nervous physicality and mercurial expressions; as Amina grows more confident, she starts taking little risks when performing, and the show makes sure we notice them all.
As for those performances… well, I’ve seen a lot of musical shows this year, and only one of them has a raging punk cover of Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5. The songcraft of We Are Lady Parts is impeccable, mixing familiar tracks with original numbers written by Manzoor, her siblings Shez and Sanya, and Benni Fregin.
Bashir With The Good Beard and Voldemort Under My Headscarf are as catchy as anything from the GIRLS5EVA soundtrack; there’s an EP on YouTube Music, though I’d suggest holding off on listening until you see how the songs are deployed in the show. Some of the best moments in We Are Lady Parts come from the electricity of collaboration, as we see these very different women combine their talents – and their perspectives – to create art that speaks for all of them, and speaks to everyone.
And that is why you should watch We Are Lady Parts tonight, or tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you’re in the mood. (Cable subscribers can find it on demand, and it’s streaming on the Global TV app and on the STACKTV channel on Amazon Prime Video.) It’s a great show that presents Muslim characters as fully dimensional people with a spectrum of opinions, beliefs and values. Their faith doesn’t define them any more than Amina’s anxiety defines her, or Ayesha’s queerness defines her, or Momtaz’s niqab defines her. But neither do any of those things diminish these characters; they’re aspects of their personalities that inform their behaviour and, not infrequently, set up moments of comedy and drama that feel honest, funny and real.
Never mind the bollocks about what is or isn’t appropriate. Just enjoy the show.