Channel 4’s We Are Lady Parts: Is Representation Enough?

WE ARE LADY PARTS -- Pictured: (l-r) Faith Omole as Bisma, Sarah Kameela as Saira, Juliette Motamed as Ayesha and  Anjana Vasan as Amina Hussain -- ( Photo by Saima Khalid/Peacock/WTTV Limited/Universal International Studios/ Channel 4)

When We Are Lady Parts burst onto TV screens in 2021, the comedy marked a seismic shift in terms of Muslim representation. Here were five women of faith in a punk band, headscarves and all, smashing expectations of Muslim women being meek, mild and oppressed.

Each of the band members brings a strong personality to the table, offering a glimpse into the breadth and diversity of the Muslim experience: there’s lead singer Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), uncompromising in her vision for Lady Parts; drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) who struggles under her fiery surface; folk fan and microbiology student Amina (Anjana Vasan) who never expected to find herself in this scene; bass player Bisma (Faith Omole), juggling motherhood and the main stage, and manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), hustling hard under her tracksuit burqa and skull rings.

Now back for its second series, We Are Lady Parts builds on the conversation of representation. Desperately trying to fund their debut album, Lady Parts struggle with making art under capitalism. Hiring a recording studio and an iconic producer costs money, but Saira won’t “sell out” with sponsorship deals to promote mascara or clothes.

It’s a meeting with her punk icon Sister Squire (played by Meera Syal) that really gets Saira spinning, wondering whether playing “funny Muslim songs” is the legacy she wants to leave in a world where Muslims are facing discrimination, racist attacks and genocide.

It’s a fine line to tread – on the one hand, being visibly Muslim (and successful) in the punk scene is defiant in itself, and anthems like Bashir With The Good Beard and Voldemort Under My Headscarf are relatable to everyone, not just Muslims. They’re also songs that record labels might feel comfortable releasing, making a wider audience aware of Muslim talent. But with a growing fanbase, should Lady Parts be using their platform to get political and piss off their record label?

As people of colour, you can feel this burden to always do more, sometimes at the expense of yourself.

It’s a thread throughout the show’s second series, playing out for the characters in different ways. While Saira feels her political stance is silenced, Bisma questions her identity as a Black Muslim woman (with a powerful Nina Simone cover). Meanwhile, Ayesha struggles with unveiling her sexuality and Amina wonders whether she’s being fetishised. With this intersectional take on representation, the show pushes the conversation around representation much further, asking whether visibility is really enough if they’re not using their voices for more.

At a screening of We Are Lady Parts, creator, writer and director Nida Manzoor said that she felt “empowered” to “level up” this series, going “bigger and bolder”.

“It’s something I grapple with. Even as we’re making the show, I’m thinking ‘I’m making a comedy, is that actually helping or doing anything?’ feeling like it’s never enough. As people of colour, you can feel this burden to always do more, sometimes at the expense of yourself. But being on set every day and seeing the cast play punk music and be funny was a big thing because western representation is so narrow.”

“We’re not protests, we’re people,” Faith added. “[Our characters] are based in humanity, and we can connect with them because they’re real people. We’re not doing things because they’re popular or current, we’re doing them because they’re real.”

For Juliette, the issue with representation is when it becomes tokenistic, something all the characters deal with in their individual journeys. “At what point is the representation actually not the thing that you’re trying to represent? Fundamentally, that’s the tension in the show.”

The cast all credited We Are Lady Parts for building an environment where these conversations could be had with the nuance they need. It was key for Nida to foster a safe space in her writing rooms, bringing diverse experiences together to inspire the show’s plot points, while Juliette shared that being on set never felt tokenistic: “You’re in a room full of people who are able to see the unique idiosyncrasies of who you are.”

Seeing people who look like you in prominent positions should never be underestimated – it’s a great place to start, especially for young people. But visuals alone aren’t enough. Muslims are not a monolith, and it’s vital to explore the intricacies of these experiences. See Bisma, wondering why she might not have as many followers as the brown band members, or Ayesha’s pressure to reveal her relationship with her girlfriend.

We Are Lady Parts follows the characters’ turmoil as they battle with whether or not to speak up about their personal identities. Yes, seeing Ayesha as a visibly queer Muslim woman would mean a lot to others like her, but is it her responsibility to share that publicly for the “greater good”, even if it hurts her? There is no right or wrong answer, nor will there ever be, but what this second series shows is that we need to ask the questions.

All episodes of We Are Lady Parts will be available to stream on Channel 4 on Thursday 30 May or watch live at 10pm

Isabella Silvers is a multi-award-winning freelance journalist and has written for titles including PS, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, the Evening Standard, Esquire and more. She also writes Mixed Messages, a weekly newsletter on mixed identity. She was named on PPA’s and Media Week’s “30 Under 30” lists, won a WeAreTheCity Rising Star Award, and was shortlisted at the Investing in Ethnicity Awards and the European Diversity Awards.

Image Source: Channel 4

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