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Television

HBO Max chose Jameela Jamil to host a voguing competition. Cue the social media backlash

Jameela Jamil
Jameela Jamil arriving at the 62nd Grammy Awards.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Jameela Jamil is helping HBO Max put ball culture in the spotlight. But not everyone is convinced that she’s the right choice.

On Tuesday, the streamer announced that “The Good Place” alumna would emcee and judge on their upcoming voguing competition series “Legendary.” According to HBO Max’s announcement, the series will “highlight modern day ball culture,” with “divas” from eight different Houses battling in fashion and dance challenges.

“I’m *so* excited to be a tiny part of bringing ballroom further into the mainstream where it belongs,” Jamil tweeted with the announcement. “I’m here to celebrate some of the coolest, most talented people on the planet who deserve center stage.”

Ballroom is an underground LGBTQ subculture that can trace its roots back to 1920s New York. Balls were a place for predominantly black and Latino members of the LGBTQ community to participate in drag competitions in various categories, playing up the performative nature of gender. They were important safe spaces for queer and trans people, particularly in the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and violence against trans women of color.

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“Legendary” is the latest in a spate of series to attempt to capitalize on the rich material provided by LGBTQ subcultures in the wake of the success of “Pose” — which won star Billy Porter a history-making Emmy last fall — and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which host/star RuPaul has made into a global phenomenon. RuPaul has a scripted series, “AJ and the Queen,” on Netflix, while “Drag Race” alumni have lined up unscripted series on TLC and HBO.

Ball culture’s essential role in LGBTQ history led a number of observers to question Jamil’s appointment as “Legendary’s” MC, since the actress — who identifies as a feminist — is not a member of the LGBTQ community.

“I interviewed for this gig. As the mother of a house for nearly a decade it’s kind of kind blowing when [people] with no connection to our culture gets the gig,” tweeted actress Trace Lysette (“Hustlers,” “Transparent”) in response to the news.

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Among the other judges announced for “Legendary” are Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach and Leiomy Maldonado. “Pose” actor and King of Vogue Dashaun Wesley has been tapped as a commentator, and DJ MikeQ was also announced as the show’s DJ. Maldonado is “Legendary’s” only judge from the ballroom community.

Twitter was quick to respond to the announcement, with many pointing out that announcing an LGBTQ MC familiar with the ballroom scene would have been a more appropriate move for the show. Others have noted that Maldonado, Wesley and DJ MikeQ are known for their ties to ball culture.

This is not the first time Jamil has found herself in the middle of social media backlash.

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