‘We Are Lady Parts’ Invigorates The Girl-Power Formula With Wit, Rowdiness & Faith [Review]

We Are Lady Parts” is a sly wink to the audience, a rebel yell from its characters, and an interrogation of our assumptions. In the six-episode half-hour comedy from showrunner, director, and writer Nida Manzoor, the jokes, sight gags, and fantasy sequences fly fast and furious. The friendships and romantic relationships are tenderly developed and organically rendered. And the cast of Middle Eastern, Arab, South Asian, Black, and biracial actresses and actors who embody this nuanced, thoughtful, confrontational, and adoring portrait of modern Muslims are summarily pitch-perfect. Whatever your expectations from the show’s general premise of “all-female punk band struggle to reconcile their personalized interpretations of Islam while also emphasizing their commitment to the music and to each other,” the lively, funny, and lovely “We Are Lady Parts” (streaming on Peacock as of June 3) will exceed them.

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In the first minutes of the premiere episode “Play Something,” 26-year-old Amina (Anjana Vasan) and her parents meet with a potential future husband and his parents. In her modest but brightly colored outfit with coordinating hijab, a smile upon her face, and a pleasant tone in her voice, Amina tries to make small talk with this intense, strict man. Will they fall in love? Will his conservative family accept her? Amina wanders into a fantasy sequence, imagining the suitor’s “shoulders of a Mesopotamian warlord” bursting free of his traditional garb before “our eyes meet across the sand dunes”—and before her parents derail the entire interview by bringing up her guitar playing.

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The potential match is rejected because, to the man’s parents, Amina’s outfit is too brightly colored, and her performing music publicly is haram—but Amina’s parents aren’t disappointed. They’re not fundamentalists forcing her to get married. Instead, they would prefer she finish her Ph.D. in microbiology, work for a while, live by herself, and maybe date around. Amina wears a hijab, but her mother does not; Amina is in a rush to get married and settle down, but her parents don’t understand why. Their home is divided by the generational differences in Islamic practice, but not in the way most American viewers would assume.

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Meanwhile, across town, Lady Parts—a trio of Muslim women playing sneering, snarling punk rock songs about their religion, their gender, and their lives—get ready for band practice. Like Amina and her parents, they vary in how they interpret their faith. Guitarist and lead singer Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey) is covered with tattoos, doesn’t wear a hijab, and is estranged from her family. Still, she also works as a halal butcher, recites poetry, and takes her music seriously. “We simply seek to speak our truth before we are mangled by other people’s bullshit ideas of us,” she says. Although bassist Bisma (Faith Omole) and drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) are on the same wavelength, they’re not nearly as intense. Bisma is more of an earth mother type, an environmentalist and naturalist raising her daughter to be a feminist. Ayesha is the bro-y one who delights in drowning out her racist Uber riders with loud screamo and who isn’t afraid to literally step to—and tower over—Saira. And the group is managed by Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), a social media devotee and maybe arsonist who blows vape smoke out from under her niqab and burqa.

When Saira decides that the group would benefit from a lead guitarist, their paths cross with Amina’s. Does Amina, who suffers from awful stage fright and is worried that being in the band will harm her chances of finding a husband, want to join Lady Parts? She does not. But as she is drawn into the group’s orbit, Amina begins to reconsider her narrow definition of what it is to be a Muslim woman. Bisma, Ayesha, and Momtaz all dress modestly, Saira studies the religion and keeps her own journal of observations about the faith and its teachings, and they all play and listen to punk rock. That’s not to suggest that these women should, or do, immediately become friends just because they follow the same religion. But what “We Are Lady Parts” does by tracing Amina’s journey into becoming friends with, and then part of, the band is acknowledging, address, and support the many ways that Muslim women can act, be, identify, and exist. None of these preferences in fashion, ideology, or lifestyle are wrong, Manzoor emphasizes in each episode, if they are what one wants to do, if they are living authentically, and if they aren’t hurting anyone by living this way.

“We Are Lady Parts” doesn’t lecture or scold with these ideas. Instead, the tone is somewhere between the absurdity of “This Is Spinal Tap,” the earnestness of early-season “Glee,” and the tongue-in-cheek humor of “30 Rock.” Vasan’s Amina is prone to daydreams that reference classic movies or other TV shows, and the mid-season structure of a few episodes brings to mind the double-life plotting of the coming-of-age classic “Bend It Like Beckham.” However, whatever slight predictability is found in this narrative is counteracted by the excellence of Amina and the rest of the cast. As Amina, Vasan effectively conveys the character’s initial wide-eyed guilelessness at Lady Parts’ antics: “Some people might find it offensive? I love to wear my headscarf,” she timidly says about song lyrics during her first band meeting, a criticism that causes Ayesha to launch toward her in anger. As the episodes progress, we watch Amina grow more into herself, a transformation Vasan communicates through her fluid body language and declarative line deliveries; a scene where Amina successfully performs in public for the first time without throwing up is perfectly accented by the look of joy on Vasan’s face. Similarly excellent is Impey, whose Saira is essentially a co-lead. In the final two episodes, “Represent” and “Sparta,” Saira is varyingly fragile, agonized, and enraged, and Impey wears the character’s woundedness and betrayal.

All of that intensity pays off during a finale that is, from top to bottom, one of the most crowd-pleasing scenes to grace television so far this year. That cathartic conclusion is the result of one satisfying scene after another, from the wildness of Lady Parts’ rehearsals as they practice songs like “Ain’t No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister But Me” and “Voldemort Under My Headscarf,” to a band trip out into the British wilderness where they talk shit about colonialism and get high, to an altercation between Saira and Amina’s prim-and-proper best friend Noor (Aiysha Hart), to a breakthrough conversation between Amina and her mother Seema (Shobu Kapoor) about their different religious beliefs. “We’re sisters who pray together, play together, speaking our truth to whoever can be asked to listen,” Saira says of her manifesto, and “We Are Lady Parts” brings those words to joyous, invigorating life. [A]