The history of the mainstream [read: straight, cis, and white] media appropriating ball culture is as long and complex as an Elektra Abundance high ponytail. The latest example is the upcoming HBO Max show Legendary, which certainly sounds promising:
Legendary turns modern-day ball culture into a competition, featuring divas battling on teams called “Houses” in challenges involving fashion, dance, and voguing. Each house is comprised of five performers and a leader. The nine-episode series features the teams facing off against one another for a trophy and cash prize. Each episode features a different themed ball and extensive footage of the competitors preparing behind the scenes.
So it’s basically like RuPaul’s Drag Race meets Pose. First thoughts? Here for it. Already DVR-ing it. Signed up for Season 2.
Of course, when doing a show that is so clearly beholden to the culture of a community that has historically been maligned, success and just plain fairness are determined by the inclusion and representation of its members.
HBO Max, a new standalone streaming service (because we really need more of those), has announced that Legendary’s MC and judge will be Jameela Jamil of The Good Place (R.I.P.).
Other judges include Megan Thee Stallion, Law Roach, and ball legend Leiomy Maldonado, alongside a weekly rotating guest judge, and we’ll get commentary from dancer and MC Dashaun Wesley and DJ MikeQ.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Jameela Jamil. Tahani Al-Jamil is a gay icon, as she would probably tell you.
But should she be hosting a show about voguing, ballroom, and houses? The internet—most notably Queens Serving Face Angelica Ross, Trace Lysette, and Amiyah Scott, among others—thinks not.
So to be clear @leiomy is a judge on this, but point still stand, she or someone from the culture should be the HOST OR MC. These other girls should be the guest just like on Drag Race! RuPaul is still the HBIC. https://t.co/HR9ZilHfBH
— Angelica Ross (@angelicaross) February 5, 2020
Lol.. I interviewed for this gig. As the mother of a house for nearly a decade it’s kind of kind blowing when ppl with no connection to our culture gets the gig. This is not shade towards Jameela, I love all that she stands for. If anything I question the decision makers https://t.co/kJleDihn02
— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) February 4, 2020
I starting walking balls when I was 16. I became a house mother before I could legally drink. I transitioned FROM THE BALLROOM SCENE to network television and you mean to tell me TV shows based around the scene are being created and I’m not even considered to be involved? K.
— Amiyah Scott (@KingAmiyahScott) February 4, 2020
Jamil responded to the backlash by clarifying that she is just one of the judges, blaming an incorrect press release:
I’m a judge, alongside @leiomy @theestallion and @LUXURYLAW with music from icon @TheOnlyMikeQ I know some of us aren’t from ballroom, but we are here to bring our followings, press and new audiences to the show, to support and celebrate the ballroom community. That is all. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/1H1J5hXi3K
— Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) February 5, 2020
And Indya Moore came out to defend the show after speaking with Jamil:
I spoke with Jameela & I am SO relieved to learn that its been misreported that she is MCing for the program, she informed me that @leiomy, @TheOnlyMikeQ, @DashaunWesley are not only consultants but that MIKEQ x Dashaun are MCING the production. Leiomy is also a host & panelist.
— INDYA (@IndyaMoore) February 5, 2020
@leiomy & @TheOnlyMikeQ & @DashaunWesley are the stars of this show & they aren't the only stars in the show Legendary. From Hair & makeup to consulting to attendees Mcs & performers it will all be ballroom consistent. Come out & support this show when it comes out #LEGENDARY
— INDYA (@IndyaMoore) February 5, 2020
So, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this turns out when HBO Max launches in May.
Still, regardless of who’s the host or MC or what-have-you, we’re excited to see legendary up-and-coming kids and their houses get a chance to snatch the spotlight. They’re the real draw—and the real stars—of the show anyway.