Amina (Anjana Vasan)
Zaqi Ismail as Ahsan, Anjana Vasan as Amina
Juliette Motamed as Ayesha
Edesiri Okpenerho as Imani, Faith Omole as Bisma
Faith Omole as Bisma
Sarah Kameela Impey as Saira, Juliette Motamed as Ayesha, Anjana Vasan as Amina
When most people think of a British punk band, they probably don't picture a quartet of Muslim women blasting through Dolly Parton's song "9 to 5" as their relentless, niqab-clad manager cheers them on. Unless they've seen Peacock's comedy series, We Are Lady Parts.
Before the series, there was Lady Parts—essentially a 2018 pilot disguised as a short film.
"It went out online, and Channel Four picked it up and gave us a full series, at which point Peacock came on board," says Nida Manzoor, the show's creator, writer, and director. "It allowed me to develop the world, expand the world, go into depth with some of the characters."
In series form, Manzoor was able to add some "flights of fancy" for the shy lead character and narrator, Amina (Anjana Vasan), introduce some of her university friends, and bring in more music.
Much like Amina, Manzoor grew up playing guitar and was more interested in country and folk music than punk.
"My dream was to be a singer-songwriter, like a Brown Girl Bob Dylan. I would write these very earnest songs about humankind. It was quite embarrassing really." Manzoor—along with her siblings—wrote the original songs for We Are Lady Parts.
"Punk, for me, was exciting because it allowed me to push back against the stereotypes of Muslim women as being kind of without agency. Because punk is so loud, so unapologetic, it isn't looking for approval, really," Manzoor says. That allowed characters to say what they needed to say.
All songs (available as a soundtrack) are performed by the cast, including "Voldemort Under My Headscarf," "Ain't No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister But Me," and "Bashir With the Good Beard."
"['Bashir With the Good Beard'] comes off the back of Amina going on that bad date. She's stressed about not impressing this guy. And then the song itself is about her being perceived as a bit of a weirdo by having been too thirsty, or whatever. So that came from Amina's character.
Some of the other songs, like 'Voldemort Under My Headscarf' was an idea that my sister and I had as we were throwing ideas around, again, pushing back against this idea that Muslim women who wear hijab are sort of 'other' or kind of suspicious characters. It was poking fun at that notion."
Those types of assumptions made it vital for Manzoor and costume designer P. C. Williams to get the bandmates' styles just right. "We talked in depth about what they wear, how they look, and how they present," she says. "When we see them we very quickly get a sense of who they are from what they're wearing."
Lead guitarist Amina wears a hajib and has the most conservative look in the band—but lacks the elegance of her very traditional best friend, Noor (Aiysha Hart).
The perpetually perturbed lead singer Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey) works in a butcher's shop, favors oversized plaid shirts and torn jeans.
Bassist, artist, and mother Bisma (Faith Omole) has a warm, funky style, and covers her hair in wraps made of bold, colorful prints. Drummer and world's rudest Uber driver, Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) covers her head in public, but occasionally lets her wild locks flow, and is never without extremely dramatic makeup.
Then there's band manager Momtaz (Lucy Shorthouse), covered head-to-booted-toe with only her eyes showing—even while working in a lingerie shop. Hints of a wild side peek through with spiked bracelets, fingerless gloves, and vaping through her niqab. Only in the final episode of the first season do viewers get a partial glimpse of Momtaz's face.
While Manzoor says writing the series felt natural, exciting, and freeing, she also loved the collaborative process of making the show.
"The joy of directing is that it stops being mine. It becomes something we all come together and create together. That is so thrilling," she says. "I also loved being in edit, because then you can eat doughnuts in a nice comfy room and not have to be on the set at 5:00am."
Two on-set moments will stick with Manzoor for a long time. One was filming the aforementioned rendition of "9 to 5." The other was the first band practice with Amina.
"Being in Saira's bedsit, having the band play the first time," Manzoor recalls. "I was just so overwhelmed by having a small idea for something, and then seeing it brought to life so beautifully. I found that really emotional."