Following the introduction of a new HBO show, Legendary, the actress got hate on Twitter.
The past 48 hours have been complicated for Jameela Jamil of The Good Place, as well as anyone who has been following the issue over HBO Max’s new series Legendary, which is a voguing and ballroom culture competition show. HBO revealed on Tuesday that Jamil would be the new show’s host and judge.
Members of the LGBTQ community reacted angrily on Twitter, believing Jamil was straight and not a proper representative of ballroom culture. Jamil publicly identified as a queer woman in response to the backlash, but the debate has raged on, highlighting a deeper conflict within the LGBTQ community.
The fundamental question is whether Jamil has the right or legitimacy to be a member of a ballroom culture series. However, the second issue is how the LGBTQ community treats different subgroups within the acronym.
Defining the Dissension (With Background)
The underground ballroom scene dates back to the mid-twentieth century. It rose to prominence in the 1980s and has subsequently become more mainstream. Queer black and brown people, as well as trans people, found a place to call their own within the culture.
Houses, or groups of individuals, competed and often lived together. Each house was often led by “house moms,” and groups would compete in voguing and “look” competitions.
HBO had chosen Jamil as the emcee and one of the judges, according to the Legendary press release. Additional judges included Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach, and Leiomy Maldonado.
Almost immediately, Twitter users chastised Jamil, with many pointing out that there were other people in the ballroom community who were more fit for the role. Trace Lysette, a trans actor and house mother, said she had auditioned for the same role that Jamil had been hired in but was unsuccessful. Lysette and Jamil were supposedly auditioning for different roles, according to Jamil.
Jamil was also keen to point out that much of the debate over her title had been for naught. Jamil stated on Twitter, contrary to the press release, that she was simply going to be a judge for the show, not an emcee. Instead, she will lead the judging panel, which includes Megan Thee Stallion, who is straight.
According to Variety, HBO issued a statement late Wednesday night explaining, “Dashaun and Jameela’s involvement in the series Legendary was announced by HBO Max yesterday. To be clear, Dashaun is the series’ MC/Commentator, and Jameela, together with Leiomy, Law, and Megan, leads the panel of judges.” Indya Moore, a Pose star and trans actor, also tweeted that she had spoken with Jamil and corrected the matter.
Jamil shared a sequence of screenshots on Wednesday night, describing a note she had sent to people concerned about her involvement. In that note, she identifies herself as “queer” and discusses how difficult it is for many South Asians to do so.
“Sometimes it takes those with more power to help a show get off the ground so we can elevate marginalized stars who deserve the limelight and give them a chance,” she continues, adding that while she recognizes that her moniker does not make her an expert in ballroom, she hoped to use her platform to shed light on a community.
Twitter reacted quickly, saying she had “missed the point,” that she still “didn’t grasp ballroom culture,” and that her queerness was questionable.
Without a question, the timing of Jamil’s release was not optimal. Many others thought her coming out was more of an excuse than an announcement, and in the midst of the uproar, social media users used her lesbian identity against her.
Others said that her “queer” identity had nothing to do with her being a judge on the show, despite her own admission. The first response originated in part from social media users who used Jamil’s perceived “straightness” as a justification why she shouldn’t be an MC or judge on the show.
(It’s worth noting that Megan Thee Stallion hasn’t received the same kind of flak as Jamil.) Then, once Jamil came out, some people pointed out that she’s dating James Blake, ostensibly invalidating bisexuality.
Even if Jamil’s role in the community is questioned, the uproar surrounding her casting highlights a wider issue within the LGBTQ community: queerness and bisexuality’s complicated place in the community. Attacking Jamil based on the perceived genuineness of her personal journey, regardless of the chronology, goes against the fundamental core of LGBTQ acceptance.
Jamil’s queerness has been deemed inauthentic by Twitter users, who have placed themselves in the position of choosing what form of queerness is valid or not valid. Biphobia and dismissive conduct toward bisexual and queer persons is a disgrace to the LGBTQ community, especially given the community’s long history of removing Asians from the LGBTQ narrative, let alone the community’s persistent ambivalence toward bisexual members.
The venom also obscures a point made by Jamil in her note: the use of privilege. If Jamil is using the show to improve her own image and establish herself as a fixture in the ballroom scene, that is a concern.
Isn’t it the goal we aim to when it comes to privilege? If Jamil steps back and utilizes her celebrity to bring awareness to the ballroom scene, isn’t that the hope we aspire to? Jamil is in a position where her notoriety might draw attention to a subculture with a rich history in America, following the success of a popular and critically acclaimed series.
Unfortunately, these circumstances can create a chicken-and-egg dilemma. If Jamil can become an ally for the ballroom community, the HBO Max program might get additional attention by leveraging her star power to promote a key series.
Ryan Murphy was able to fund Steven Canals’ film Pose, allowing the writer-director to portray critical stories about the ballroom culture. Canals has become a sought-after television writer as a result, and Angelique Jackson, MJ Rodriguez, and Indya Moore’s stunning performances have raised the bar for trans-representation on primetime television.
Unfortunately, part of that process necessitates a level of allyship trust. Jamil has utilized her online presence to glorify those who are frequently discriminated against, however she is not flawless.
Surrogates can sometimes assist raise groups who are constantly oppressed by others. And, beyond the question of whether or not we are qualified to judge a reality show, we should consider whether or not any of us are qualified to judge the worthiness of someone’s personal journey.
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