We Are Lady Parts: A New Way to Tell Stories About Bands

We Are Lady Parts, the story of an all-Muslim-female punk band in London, is a groundbreaking collaboration between creator Nida Manzoor and cinematographer Diana Olifirova. Not only is the plot compelling and refreshing, but Olifirova and Manzoor also use a variety of filmmaking techniques to develop character, move the story along, and visually excite their audience. I had a chance to speak with Olifirova about putting Manzoor’s project on screen.

Camera Movement as Character Development 

Olifirova selected different lenses, lighting techniques, and camera movements to flesh out the characters of We Are Lady Parts. For example, Olifirova chose slow and precise camera movements for the quieter, more withdrawn Amina. In contrast, Olifirova shot Saira with much more rough, staccato camera movements to reflect her more urgent and fiery personality. Each of Olifirova’s We Are Lady Parts setups depend on who’s the focus of the scene.

Lighting as Exposition

Each time the band plays, it feels like mini-punk rock video. I was curious if Olifirova drew on any real-life bands or videos as inspiration. Although she didn’t directly take inspiration from any particular bands, Olifirova did draw on the lighting of Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana. Olifirova is a proponent of dramatic lighting that serves to mirror on-screen action or direct the audience’s attention.  

The We Are Lady Parts band develops musically and becomes a more a cohesive unit over the course of the season. As this occurs, the lighting becomes more sophisticated and professional-looking. You’ll notice that each time the band plays that the colors get richer and more dramatic. Olifirova explained that although they wanted the band to be improving aesthetically, they couldn’t make what is supposed to be an indie band look like they were putting on a full rock star-stadium show. To this end, Olifirova worked to make the lighting look as realistic as possible while still elevating the quality and intensity of the drama. 

Hallucinatory Realism

Despite these informal rules for how to shoot character exposition and plot development, Olifirova and Manzoor also wanted the freedom to follow through with any outside-of-the-box ideas and aesthetics that struck their fancy. The scenes that dissolve into hallucinatory realism are clear examples of this openness to exploring a variety of looks. Transitioning the characters from modern-day London to the set of a retro game show, a Casablanca-inspired love scene, or even a moment from A Clockwork Orange lets Olifirova play with a variety of genres and their related conventions. Watching the characters dissolve into black and white romance from the golden age of cinema or a hilarious send-up of Burgess’s and Kubrick’s Ludovico Technique is just so much fun. Allowing these moments of the marvelous opens the door for Olifirova and Manzoor to use filmmaking to share their character design in jarringly creative ways.

Impact of COVID

Like most projects over the past two years, COVID had an impact on filming. The pilot was shot mostly on location. Unfortunately, public health restrictions forced the balance of production into the studio. Olifirova told me that although the locations would have suited the show well, working in studio did give her greater control over lighting. Olifirova explained that she was able to put holes in walls to shoot through or move mirrors around to act as reflectors. Some of the locations, like the butcher shop, even had to be rebuilt. When it came to shooting the band practices, Olifirova was able to use more dramatic lighting without needing to show equipment an indie band could never afford.

We Are Lady Parts is fun. Olifirova’s cinematography seems to be a perfect match for Manzoor’s imagination. It seems like the cast and crew had such an amazing time on set that these feelings were infused into the final product. If you like music and you like good camera work and lighting, We Are Lady Parts is not to be missed. 

Up Next For Olifirova

Next, Olifirova is set to work on Heartstoppers, a comic story originating and then gaining fame on Tumblr. As she puts it, Heartsoppers is a classic boy-meets-boy comic book. Having read the comic, I can’t wait to see the creative spin that Olifirova will bring to the work.

All images used with permission of by NBC / Peacock and Diana Olifirova.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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