In the British sitcom “We Are Lady Parts” and the feature film “Polite Society,” Manzoor presents characters that are joyful, liberated, glamorous, and confused.
Three minutes into the first episode of “We Are Lady Parts,” a British sitcom about an all-female, all-Muslim punk band that débuted in the spring of 2021, the band is introduced rehearsing a raucous anthem. “I’m gonna kill my sister,” Saira, the tattooed, plaid-shirt-wearing lead singer and rhythm guitarist, snarls. “She stole my eyeliner . . . and she’s been stretching out my shoes with her big fucking feet.” Alongside Saira are the other members: Bisma, the bass player, who wears a headwrap and a cowrie-shell necklace, and Ayesha, who pounds the drums furiously, tossing luxuriant hair that’s typically kept tucked under a headscarf. On the couch is Momtaz, the band’s manager, rocking out in a midnight-blue niqab. The song, “Ain’t No One Gonna Honour Kill My Sister But Me,” is, like the best punk anthems, delivered straight and filled with rage. Meanwhile, the show that it’s a part of—created by Nida Manzoor, a thirty-three-year-old writer and director from London—is, like the best comedy, sly and subversive. Securing a rare hundred-per-cent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “We Are Lady Parts” is as unexpected and as heady as the cloud of vape smoke that wafts through Momtaz’s veil.
When “Lady Parts” débuted in Britain, on Channel 4, it was immediately hailed as something new: a series that represented the experience of young British Muslim women by acknowledging the should-be-obvious fact that there is no single experience shared by young British Muslim women. Instead, there is a multiplicity of experiences, which, in “Lady Parts,” is refracted through its ensemble cast. There’s the experience of Saira, who, when she is not making music, is butchering halal meat and, in dealing with her own trauma and loss, trying to keep her devoted boyfriend at a distance. There’s that of Bisma, who has a young daughter, a partner, and an aspiring career as a creator of feminist graphic novels called “The Killing Period (Apocalypse Vag)”—“think ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ meets ‘Rugrats,’ ” she says. There’s that of Ayesha, who, as an Uber driver, has to deal with the prejudices of riders like the three young men who ask her if her dad is forcing her to work. “Yeah, he said if I don’t drive simple dickless pissheads around he’s going to send me to Iraq to marry my cousin,” she replies, before blasting them with heavy metal. The swaggering Momtaz, who wheels and deals on behalf of the band in her veil, gown, and gloves, and who also works in a fancy-lingerie shop selling bras that she categorizes to one customer as “recreational, titillational, factual, respectful, shag-me-kind or shag-me-hard,” repudiates the bigoted perceptions of observant women held by some non-Muslim Brits, including the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who once characterized women who choose to wear the burqa as “looking like letterboxes.”