Very slight spoilers are ahead. Talking about her new TV show We Are Lady Parts, star Anjana Vasan says something undeniable: “There were so many characters where it felt like just seeing one of them would have been revolutionary on another TV show.” That’s because We Are Lady Parts — a British comedy premiering on StackTV and the Global TV App June 9 — is about an all Muslim women of colour punk band. Vasan plays Amina, a microbiology PhD student with debilitating stage fright and an obsession with American folk singer Don McLean, who shocks herself by joining as lead guitarist.
In the entertainment industry words like “diversity” and “representation” often mean “Yeah, but it’s still mostly white people, right?” That’s not the case with We Are Lady Parts. The new show is bringing true representation to the TV landscape — on camera and behind it — not with just one token Muslim character, but an entire group of Muslim women of colour, who aren’t filtered through a white lens.
The series was created, written, and directed by Nida Manzoor, who was inspired by the real music and friends she knows and loves, and who wanted to show Muslim women outside of the way they’re often depicted as oppressed or as victims. In addition to Amina, Lady Parts consists of three other Muslim women — plus their manager — from different backgrounds and with different ways of leading their lives and practicing their religion. Take Saira, played by Sarah Kameela Impey. She’s the frontwoman of the band, who is independent, emotionally closed off, and, most of all, determined to make Lady Parts a success.
Both Impey and Vasan spoke with Refinery29 ahead of the series’ release, and they both agree that filming We Are Lady Parts gave them something that is rare on movie and TV sets: simply being surrounded by women of colour.
“I felt so safe and held, because you could resonate with everyone,” Impey said. “Everyone’s had such similar experiences within the industry and on set. We became each others’ friends, bandmates, sisters, confidants, therapists — it was kind of all welcome. You could be your entire self at all times.”
Vasan added that “it shouldn't feel new to be in a room with so many women, but it was new and it was very exciting because of it.” Additionally, Impey noted that "everyone got to do such badass things. Every time someone was doing something like that, the championing — everyone was just so happy for them.”
"[The show] believes in the audience’s intelligence to understand. It doesn’t try to explain anything, and I think it’s richer for not doing that."
And while a cast certainly helps to create true representation, it's also the result of those behind the camera. For Vasan, the series being helmed by writer/director Manzoor, "and that it was her vision and that she had the power," made all the difference. "When you talk about representation, who’s holding the pen is a really important question," said Vasan. "She brought so much authenticity and specificity to the story because of that.”
That specificity means that the show does not go out of its way to explain things to audiences who may not be familiar with Islam or the cultures of the various characters. For instance, there’s no talk of why Saira doesn’t wear a head covering while the other women do. There’s no need to explain why Amina is meeting with potential husbands with her parents, while her bandmates are not. Furthermore, oftentimes non-white characters on screen can feel like their existences are being explained to specifically to white viewers, because there are so many more white creators behind-the-scenes. That’s not the case here, either.
"[The show] believes in the audience’s intelligence to understand. It doesn’t try to explain anything, and I think it’s richer for not doing that," said Vasan. "You’re so used to a character, if she is a woman of colour, her experience being filtered through either a man’s perspective, or the gaze is either a male gaze or a white male gaze. In this, it’s all women at the forefront, and all the experiences are filtered through the women’s perspective. That felt so refreshing and so rare.”
For Impey, the decisions in the show speak to Manzoor’s real life. “It’s a snapshot into her world,” she said. “It’s her lived experience. So within our friendship group, you never have to explain who you are, you just exist. And that’s what you see on the screen. You’re just in their world. They’re just being them.”
"Just being them” includes everything from bad dates and struggling friendships to failed auditions and being interviewed by a rather suspicious influencer. Without giving too much away, it’s that last part that becomes the emotional climax of the season, as the bandmates all have different reactions to the outcome of the shocking article. As her response, Impey’s character Saira mockingly sings the phrase “I want to fuck a terrorist” as her stunned bandmates look on. The actor calls it an “insane experience” because it puts the stereotype right out there, completely inescapable. Not exactly something you’d get from another series, especially not from a 30-minute comedy and definitely not in a way that would feel this honest.
The first season of We Are Lady Parts is only six episodes, and while it starts with a somewhat narrow, heavily comedic focus on Amina, the world opens up further and further as we learn more about each bandmate. And, by the way, they really are bandmates… in a sense. The actors entered the series with varying levels of musical experience — Vasan played acoustic guitar, Impey sang “soulful, indie kind of music” — and had to practice separately first, then together to actually play as a band. Manzoor and her siblings wrote all the music in the show; her brother, Shez Manzoor, trained the cast on their instruments.
So, yeah, the women in this quasi-real band on this fictional TV show bonded a lot, and it's apparent in both the series and in our conversation ahead of the premiere. Now, they’re just waiting to find out if they’ll reunite for a second season. “I want to see a rival band dynamic,” Vasan said. But Impey is aiming for something even bigger: “I’m gunning for a world tour.”