Legendary singer Patti Smith once said: “To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.” It’s a sentiment echoed by actress Sarah Kameela Impey, who plays the fierce punk frontwoman in We Are Lady Parts, a hilarious new British series about an all-girl Muslim punk band airing on Showcase. “Being punk removes everything, all the barriers, and just lets you connect to that place of ‘this is who I am. I’m not afraid to tell you who I am,’” she explains.
Impey, who plays Saira, the lead singer of Lady Parts, researched Smith and her music to prepare for the role. “Obviously, she’s been a musician for so long… and [has] very different standards to what musicians have been before,” she says. For the series, if you combine epic punk rock music, a quirky group of young Muslim women and a dash of eccentric comedy, you have the recipe for a revolutionary show that navigates religion, feminism and friendship against the backdrop of a killer soundtrack.
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The show was a chance for Impey to experiment, as she’d been dreaming of a role like this for a long time. Having fronted her own band for several years, she saw the chance to play music on the small screen as a sign the stars were aligning. “I actually prayed to the universe and said, ‘Please give me something in my hand, [that] I can work with, like an instrument,’” she says. “To suddenly be faced with playing a punk singer was such an incredible thing, because you have to let go so much of yourself to not have to sound perfect, and be able to scream out those words.”
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It’s all about breaking boundaries
We Are Lady Parts follows Amina (Anjana Vasan), a microbiology PhD student and guitar teacher on the hunt for a husband who winds up as Lady Parts’ unexpected lead guitarist after Saira and the band track her down. Saira is strong-willed and outspoken, shattering limited, stereotypical depictions of Muslim women that audiences have come to see on TV. “I think I discovered a lot about myself that I didn’t know was there,” Impey says of her character. “I’m not very good at expressing anger in my normal life. So to be able to play this person who really wears it because of her circumstances and says ‘Do you know what, I’m just going to tell you exactly how I feel’ in my personal life now, I say what I think.”
The series centres on the British Muslim experience of womanhood in intricate ways that haven’t been seen before. Viewers get to see the goings-on in a Halal butcher shop, the process of setting up arranged marriages, and more. The best parts showcase the day-to-day ups-and-downs of the band’s members — some in hijabs, some with tattoos — a group of strong women of different races, classes and sexual identities. In many ways, it’s earth-shattering how diverse the series is. “The more we hear diverse stories, you get different perspectives; you understand where people are coming from, and you can share this life more fruitfully together,” Impey says. “This is so joy-centred, and we have these beautifully complex characters that you don’t see [on TV].”
Making punk cool again
In the last year, punk has had an undeniable resurgence in the mainstream. But with women of colour at the forefront, We Are Lady Parts is shining a light on those who have always been present but largely forgotten by history.
Hopefully this will set the bar and open the door for so many more stories like this, for women of colour, for people of colour to jump on, and to be able to tell the stories that they’ve actually lived.
“If you go back, with the sound system [culture] within the UK, you go back and back and back, you realize where it came from,” she says of people of colour’s ties to the British punk scene (think: people like Don Letts). “A lot of people say to us, ‘I wish this had come out years ago when I was younger and I would have felt seen, then I would have understood myself a bit more.’ And although that would have been incredible, it hasn’t happened until now,” she adds.
“Hopefully this will set the bar and open the door for so many more stories like this, for women of colour, for people of colour to jump on, and to be able to tell the stories that they’ve actually lived.”
On the series opening more doors for diverse casts
Impey hopes the series will pave the way for other unique shows. “There’s so many different people out there, and if we’re told one narrative, we’ll never understand where we fit into it,” she says.
This is how We Are Lady Parts does things differently, by presenting diversity as the default, and not shying away from uncomfortable conversations while still having fun along the way.