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Film and TV

Jameela Jamil frantically back-pedals after becoming HBO’s inexplicable choice of judge of a new voguing show

Lily Wakefield February 5, 2020
Jameela Jamil

Actress Jameela Jamil. (Amanda Edwards/Getty)

HBO has announced that it has chosen Jameela Jamil to host and sit on a panel of judges for its new unscripted voguing competition Legendary, and the internet isn’t happy about it.

Voguing, a form of dance that finds its roots in the New York ballroom scene that began around the 1960s, has long been a symbol of queerness and LGBT+ resistance.

The modern ballroom scene was pioneered by queer people of colour from deprived New York neighbourhoods, and the moves involved in voguing were inspired by poses in high-end fashion magazines and on catwalks.

To this day, ballroom culture is made up of “houses”, often named after fashion brands. While on the surface a house might look like just a dance group, they have served as literal homes and safe spaces for LGBT+ people who have been cast out and they have become symbols of resistance against the marginalisation of queerness.

In the upcoming HBO Max show Legendary, eight “houses” will compete, comprised of five dancers plus a house “parent”, for the chance “to snatch the legendary trophy and win a cash prize”.

Each of the nine episodes in the series will feature a themed ball, and plenty of “behind the scenes action”.

But on Tuesday, February 4, HBO Max announced that Jameela Jamil, who has never publicly claimed to be LGBT+, would judge and act as MC for the competition.

The other judges were named as Megan Thee Stallion (who is also not openly LGBT+), Law Roach and Leiomy Maldonado, with commentary by Dashaun Wesley and music by DJ MikeQ.

Jamil was quickly accused of “appropriating ballroom culture”, with one person writing: “Actual people exist who are fully immersed in ballroom culture. I wonder what skill set you have to be a judge? And watching Pose does not count.”

Trans actor Trace Lysette, who has starred in Transparent, Hustlers and Pose, also wrote on Twitter: “I interviewed for this gig. As the mother of a house for nearly a decade, it’s kind of mind blowing when people with no connection to our culture get the gig.

“This is not shade towards Jameela, I love all that she stands for. If anything I question the decision makers.”

When the news originally broke, Jamil retweeted a story naming her as the MC of Legendary, and wrote: “I’m so excited to be a tiny part of bringing ballroom further into the mainstream where it belongs.”

But as the waves of criticism began to roll in, Jamil deleted the tweet and turned on the same story, saying it had been misreported that she will MC for the show.

She still confirmed that she will sit on the panel of judges and act as “one of” the hosts, just not the MC.

But, as one Twitter-user put it: “The main outcry, whether its host, MC, judge, catering company…is why YOU and HBO thought THIS was the table you deserved a seat at.”

HBO Max has been approached for comment.

More: ballroom, ballroom culture, competition, HBO, Jameela Jamil, Legendary, voguing

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