By: Mohamed Sidki
It is no secret that Western media has refused to present Muslims, and Brown-skinned Peoples in general, as anything but terrorists (“Back to the Future,” “24,” “Homeland”) or your average, generic evil henchmen (the first THREE “Indiana Jones” movies). Growing up as an Arab Muslim in America in the 1980s and 1990s, there were hardly any characters who looked like me in the movies or on T.V. that anyone could’ve consider a positive role model, so I ended up looking forward to whenever Brown-centric movies like “La Bamba” or “Stand and Deliver” aired on HBO, and any scene featuring Mario Lopez was in “Saved by the Bell.” (It’s not like the Latinx communities have had an easier time navigating showbiz either, and it is a subject that will be explored many times on this site.)
There has been some progress over the last couple of years but, it’s been excruciatingly slow. And unfortunately, that progress is still beholden to “The White Gaze,” so we end up with projects by writer-performers such as Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani who center their material around mocking Muslim women for being, in their eyes, “backwards” and “unassimulated,” while they themselves lust after white women. Media gate keeping has prevented a diverse array of Brown Peoples and Muslims from presenting all forms of our true selves. The fact that, “We Are Lady Parts” even exists is a miracle from Allah.
“We are Lady Parts” is a British half-hour comedy series written and directed by Nida Monzoor (“Doctor Who”) about members of an all-female, all-Muslim punk rock (Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed, Faith Omole) and their nakab-wearing, vape-smoking manager (Lucie Shorthouse) who search for a lead guitarist in order to enter a Battle of the Bands-style competition, which could be the jumpstart the group needs to have a sustainable music career. So, enter: Amina Hussein, our main protagonist and narrator (Anjana Vasan, in what is one of the best comedic performances ever to stream or air on television).
Amina is a killer guitarist but she suffers from a crippling stage fright that leads to vomiting and the occasional uncontrollable “pooing.” She is also a square who has put a lot of pressure on herself to live a life that she thinks is worthy of a model Muslim, from becoming a world-renowned scientist to marrying the “right” man. It is in her Jane Austen-esque quest to find a husband — a quest that neither of her British Indian parents are in a rush for her to undertake — that she ends up in Lady Parts, after falling head over heels for the brother of one of her future bandmates.
The series does not shortchange the other members of Lady Parts. We get to know the British Iraqi drummer Ayesha (Motamed) who has the personality of a soccer hooligan; Afro-British bassist Bisma (Omole) who is not only a mother who teachers her pre-teen daughter fourth-wave feminist philosophies but is also a struggling comic book writer and artist who recently self-published a tale of young women who become “homicidal maniacs on their periods;” the black nakab-clad band manager Momtaz (Shorthouse) who makes ends meet by selling “shag me hard” lingerie to middle aged Muslim women; and British Pakistani lead singer Saira (Impley) who works in a halal butcher shop and has a battle-earned chip on her shoulder. Together, these five young Brown and Black Muslim women from different backgrounds and distinctly different personalities take on anyone and everyone who strips them, other Muslim women, and Muslims in general, of their agency and humanity in the best way they can: through music.
(Some of the songs, like “Bashir with the Good Beard” are original tunes co-written by Manzoor and her musician siblings, and are catchy as hell.)
And what is truly refreshing about “We Are Lady Parts” is that it is not told through “The White Gaze.” There are no instances of these young women feeling torn between the “traditional” and “oppressive” Muslim world, and white, “freedom-loving” Britain. No Muslim man is bashed for believing in a “backwards” religion, though a couple of the male characters get occasionally called out for their misogyny but only in the context that they are your typical dumb guys saying dumb things in a sitcom. (There is a wonderful spoof of a sequence from Kumail Nanjiani’s “The Big Sick” where it is Amina, a Brown Muslim woman, who this time is the one meeting ridiculous potential mates but it occurs only AFTER she tries to move on from the young Muslim man she has a crush on. And it’s never Islam or some secret want she has to fit into white society that makes these men awful. They just suck.)
The members of Lady Parts are proud Muslims, proud women, proud of their Black and Brown heritages, and proud musicians. And that’s what makes “We are Lady Parts” one of the best shows of 2021. A must-watch!
All 6 episodes of “We are Lady Parts” Season 1 are currently streaming on Peacock.