As production began Thursday night in Stamford, Conn., on the new HBO Max ballroom voguing competition series “Legendary,” producers confirmed the role of “The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil on the show.
“Legendary” executive producers David Collins and Rob Eric told Variety that Jamil would serve as a judge on the show, but not as MC. An HBO Max press release earlier this week said Jamil would serve as the show’s MC — which quickly sparked an online outcry.
Jamil was criticized for not being representative of ballroom culture, which was founded by primarily black and Latinx LGBTQ people in New York in the late 1980s, and that the gig should have gone to one of the many veterans of the scene who are still active. Dashaun Wesley, nicknamed the “King of Vogue,” will instead be the show’s MC, with DJMikeQ on the turntables. Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach and Leiomy Maldonado will serve as judges along with Jamil.
“It all came down to this mistake on the MC, and it was so ridiculous, but people ran on it,” said Collins, whose Scout Productions is behind the show. “It was brought to our attention, we changed it, and now we’re moving on.”
Ballroom culture vets, including Trace Lysette and Michelle Visage, had criticized the announcement of Jamil as MC, and Jamil also went online to refute the press release. She also revealed that she identifies as queer, saying that “this is absolutely not how (she) wanted it to come out.”
HBO Max later sent out another statement clarifying Jamil’s role. Eric said the blowback against Jamil was “unfortunate, but she is one of the kindest, most amazing allies to so many different communities, that it tore our heart out for her, that anyone would go after her that doesn’t know her. But that’s what happens on Twitter. It’s just how it works. We’re here to support the community and we’re here to support our community of the show as well.”
Responding on Twitter about the dustup, Wesley wrote, “Anything monumental created will always be combated by the naysayers. There’s no way people who has no idea of this process can shift our amazing outcome. Jameela Jamil, welcome to the team. They will understand when it all airs.”
Collins said GLAAD has been consulted on the show and that Scout Prods. made an effort to reach out to more of the ballroom world. “This show celebrates a marginalized community,” he said. “We’re so excited to have everyone that’s involved in this. GLAAD has been here and is so supportive of this show. We’re so proud of everything that’s happening. I think it was a moment, a little blip in social, but ultimately when the show comes out, honestly we couldn’t be prouder.”
Eric compared the controversy to concerns he read about the reboot of “Queer Eye.”
“When we announced ‘Queer Eye’ was coming back, we were raked over the coals,” he said. “That we were promoting gay stereotypes, that we were doing nothing for our community, that we were hurting the world. And then when we announced the cast, it wasn’t diverse enough. [But] we’re not stupid, we’re certainly never going to do something that would divide a community. David and I spent two years putting this show together. So it is really about the fact that we know what we’re doing with this.”
As gay men, Eric added, he and Collins “have both grown up with oppression in our community, and being able to tell our stories. And we certainly weren’t going to let a bunch of Twitter feedback stop us from putting our vision out there.”