How Peacock’s Raucous We Are Lady Parts Fights for Girls’ Rights to FailurePhoto Courtesy of Peacock TV Features We Are Lady Parts
“Own your freakiness, before it owns you.” So rings the declaration of Muslim mother, fierce bassist, and indomitably sweet spirit Bisma (Faith Omole). While she serves it as a piece of encouragement to the perpetually nervous, stage fright-ridden, but dorkily charismatic Amina (Anjana Vasan), it could easily translate to a subheading for Peacock’s new raucous musical comedy series, We Are Lady Parts.
Documenting the accidental (but transformational) addition of the sometimes hapless, staunchly buttoned-up microbiology PhD student Amina to an all-woman, devoutly Muslim British punk band that takes delight in shredding the ears of its disapproving audiences, creator Nida Manzoor’s series revels in the same tone of cathartic outrage as its titular band’s riot grrl, punk, and heavy metal idols. With instantly lovable characters who practically batche in anxiety around their interpersonal relationships, played by a cast of delightfully excitable performers who thrive in the series’ melodramatic, stylized interludes, the show’s first season is a combination of loud joy, anger, and terror that is especially well-suited for an audience facing the challenges of coming into their own, or coming out themselves.
From the very first episode, loud creative expression isn’t just relegated to original anthems and cheeky covers that spell out the band mates’ frustrations with bad dates (“Bashir with the Good Beard”) and bigoted strangers (“Voldemort Under My Headscarf”). It fuels Amina’s expansively cinematic, horny fantasies of encounters with her future husband. It thrives in the spoken word of lead singer and rhythmic guitarist Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), who uses performance as one of the only ways to communicate what she really wants, even to herself. It literally drowns out the complaints of impassive drummer Ayesha’s (Juliette Motamed) obnoxious rideshare customers, and it splatters the pages of Bisma’s home-cooked graphic novel about women who gain murderous supernatural abilities from the power of their menstrual cycles. The band members have a wealth of information and ideas in their brains, and rather than focusing solely on music as a way of funneling it toward solving all their problems, Manzoor—who also wrote and directed each episode—allows her characters to take their time battling the onslaught of anxieties and microaggressions that pepper a less-than-satisfactory “Just a Girl” existence.
Perhaps the most intriguing relationship of the show thus far (and its scant six episodes are just itching for a second exclamatory season) comes from its two most polar opposite characters, both who try to unsuccessfully bury their dissatisfaction in their own unshakeable images of who they should be. While the heavily tattooed, undercut-adorned Saira is a classic rebel-with-a-cause expelled from school, and informally excommunicated by her traditional, appearances-ruled family, Amina forms her own rebellion against her much more lax, confused, and warmly endearing parents by determinedly wanting to “settle” for a more conservative husband and eventual father—even one who considers her playing music, her doctorate, or any other slight aspect of her personality to be too individualistic. Against all odds, Saira takes the most interest in Amina, sensing her “freak” nature under the tightly-wrapped denial, and painstakingly coaching her through songs and spoken word alike to help her manage her incapacitating anxiety.
While Amina’s main romantic interest is in Ayesha’s handsome and unexpectedly kind brother Ahsan (Zaqi Ismail), and Saira is paired with an on-again-off-again hookup in the form of bewildered, well-meaning, but somewhat obtuse Abdullah, Amina and Saira also have a chemistry that begs for more exploration. Abdullah even teases Saira, in her moments of vocal fascination, that he’s envious of Amina for getting his not-quite-girlfriend all hot and bothered; the rest of the band also fail to understand Saira’s premature championing of Amina. Whether anything more than an intense friendship develops (especially in light of the made-for-queer-crushes bad-boy attitude Saira wears as easily as her flannel-denim wardrobe) remains to be seen, but Saira’s struggle with accepting Abdullah as anything other than a friend-with-benefits points to an eventual reckoning with the truths she’s been locking away.
The more explicitly queer representation of the entry season goes to sharp-tongued, often furious heartthrob Ayesha, whose gruff nature falls apart in the face of an infatuation with a flirtatious journalist just looking for an inflammatory, click-bait scoop on how the girls are betraying their faith. Here, as with Saira’s fear of losing her integrity, and Amina’s fear of the spotlight, Ayesha’s worst nightmare comes true. The show stops just shy of outing her publicly (with Sofia Barclay’s influencer-journalist giving a insidiously snide “you’re welcome” for striking that particular piece of information from her takedown), but Ayesha’s rare softness in opening up to an attractive stranger, one who sees the vulnerability under her persona, is crushed. The more traditional tropes of a coming-out drama are hinted at, but mostly avoided in order to form a much more holistic portrait of a character. Ayesha’s anxiety isn’t about her queerness, though she does keep that fairly private. Her fears are so much more about her distrust in an outside world that expects her to be meek and compliant, and an inside world that takes her genuine interests and passions for sacrilege. In this purposeful, uncaring betrayal of a girlfriend, Ayesha is forced to confront each of those fears head-on, and that strength is both heartbreaking and invigorating.
In addition to winning performances, a genuinely exciting soundtrack, and brilliant bits of silliness in each episode, this penchant for failure is what uplifts We Are Lady Parts to a young queer audience’s must-watch. In so many narratives, young white women are allowed one small failure to make them relatable before they reach for the ultimate success, and queer or otherwise marginalized side characters are rarely afforded the ability to come back from any sort of rock bottom. With Lady Parts, however, repeated screw-ups are a necessary launch pad on the road to DIY stardom. In its season finale rendition of “We Are the Champions,” there’s little doubt that no matter how often they get knocked down, the girls will keep rumbling, and continue to fine-tune their freakiness through encouragement and raw enthusiasm of their sisterhood.
We Are Lady Parts is now streaming on Peacock.
Shayna Maci Warner is a Brooklyn-based film programmer, preservationist and GLAAD-awarded critical queer. Their words on queer feelings and films appear in Autostraddle, The Film Stage and Film Cred, among others, and they write a horny newsletter about the girls and gays that make movies worth watching. You can summon her by yodeling “Desert Hearts was robbed!” into the sunset.
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