When HBO announced the casting line-up of their new show Legendary, a nine-episode series that turns ballroom into a televised competition, they likely expected kudos. Uplifting a marginalized community, showing diversity, you know, all of the stuff that people want to see. But what they were met with was almost universal backlash for choosing Jameela Jamil, a woman who many do not know to be queer or trans, and who seemingly has no connection to ballroom, as its face. So, instead of address those criticisms they changed the show — or at least the way they were talking about it — and needlessly threw journalists under the bus in the process.
According to a release to members of the press by HBO on Tuesday, “HBO Max announced today that actress, activist and host Jameela Jamil will MC and judge Legendary, the 9-episode unscripted voguing competition series from Scout Productions.” The release goes on to list Leiomy Maldonado, and others as part of a judging table, with “commentary by Dashaun Wesley” and DJ MikeQ as the DJ. HBO Max’s communications team then tweeted the news, also stipulating that Jamil would pose as “MC and judge.” The HBO Max account signal-boosted it, and press like Deadline and Out covered in-kind.
This all feels like minutiae but it’s important to go back through how this was all established as fact. Jamil initially tweeted a link to the Deadline story. “I’m *so* excited to be a tiny part of bringing ballroom further into the mainstream where it belongs,” she wrote in a now deleted post. She would tweet and delete multiple tweets throughout the day about the ensuing scandal. “I’m here to celebrate some of the coolest, most talented people on the planet who deserve center stage. I’m honoured to join these brilliant artists.” But, in the 12 hours since, Jamil has condemned Deadline, revising the narrative in real time.
“Hello!,” she wrote in a tweet that included a screenshot of Out’s coverage. “Deadline says I am the MC of this show! I am not. I am just one of the judges. The brilliant Dashaun Wesley is.” Except … that’s not what a press release still live on HBO’s press room at the time of publishing states. So what changed?
Hello! @DEADLINE says I am the MC of this show! I am NOT. I am just one of the judges. The brilliant @DashaunWesley is. With help from the fabulous @TheOnlyMikeQ I’m a long time fan of ballroom and just wanted to help this show get made to celebrate this beautiful community. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/ot7SEYnZTr
— Jameela Jamil ? (@jameelajamil) February 5, 2020
In the time between Jamil being the host and MC and her just changing to a judge — at one point Indya Moore tweeted that they spoke with Jamil and was told that Leiomy was a host, though that can’t be substantiated elsewhere — the activist and actress was universally criticized. People wanted to know why a seemingly cisgender heterosexual woman was the face of a creation of queer people of color. Someone who wasn’t a part of the culture.
WHEW! I don’t want to think about this too much cause thinking about it only further reveals how f’d up this really is and you know what??? Just no. No, no, no, no, no. This DEFINITELY should’ve been with @tracelysette or @KingAmiyahScott TBH, they BOTH have the star power! https://t.co/dQNFA0CUIb
— Angelica Ross (@angelicaross) February 4, 2020