Caroline Goldstein
February 05, 2020 12:50 pm

When HBO Max announced Legendary, its upcoming voguing competition series, it probably wasn’t expecting the backlash about its choice to cast Jameela Jamil to outshine the actual announcement. But that’s exactly what’s happening—and that backlash is fierce. Here’s what’s going on.

According to Deadline, the 10-episode show will follow “divas battling on voguing teams called ‘houses,’ with the chance to win a cash prize in ballsy fashion and dance challenges to ultimately achieve ‘Legendary’ status.” Yesterday, HBO Max announced that Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach, and Leiomy Maldonado will act as judges on Legendary. They also brought on Dashaun Wesley and DJ MikeQ (both of whom Jezebel calls “ballroom staples”) for commentary and music.

Voguing, a “highly stylized form of dance,” originated in the LGBTQ ballroom scene in Harlem in the 1960s. And considering its deep significance to queer and POC culture, expectations were that showrunners would cast someone from the ballroom community as the MC. Instead, HBO Max named The Good Place actor Jameela Jamil for that role. Jamil has certainly made a name for herself as an activist, but she doesn’t seem to have any ties to queer culture, let alone the ballroom scene.

Still, HBO Max sent out a press release detailing the show and its panel. According to Jezebel, the release clearly named Jamil as the Master of Ceremonies.

HBO Max also tweeted about the show’s panel yesterday—and that’s where the backlash began.

As Out’s Mikelle Street writes, “people wanted to know why a seemingly cisgender heterosexual woman was the face of a creation of queer people of color.”

People from the ballroom community chimed in, as well, including actor Trace Lysette, whom Out says was a mother in the house of Mizrahi, then the founding mother of the house of Gorgeous Gucci.

According to Out, Jamil tweeted, then deleted, a series of posts supporting the HBO Max announcement. In one now-deleted post, she wrote: “I’m *so* excited to be a tiny part of bringing ballroom further into the mainstream where it belongs.”

But as the hours passed, and the backlash built, Jamil changed her tune. Eventually, she responded directly to the HBO Max tweet and claimed that she was not, in fact, cast at the MC, and that Dashaun Wesley was taking on that role. HBO Max has since deleted its initial tweet.

This morning, Jamil claimed that the show’s press release was “inaccurate” and “upsetting.”

In a follow-up tweet, she again clarified that she’s a judge, not the MC. She also recognized that neither she, nor some of the other judges, are from ballroom culture, but “we are here to bring our followings, press and new audiences to the show, to support and celebrate the ballroom community.”

Though originating in the 1960s, voguing became better known to mainstream audiences with the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning (and with the 1990 Madonna hit “Vogue”). More recently, Ryan Murphy showcased the ballroom community of the 1980s and ’90s in his series Pose, which was lauded for casting an unprecedented number of trans actors. The ballroom scene was, and continues to be, a safe haven for young, queer, working-class people of color.

We’ll continue to follow the story as it progresses. Frankly, we can’t imagine how the actual show’s drama can live up to this.

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