This morning I woke up to news that there had been backlash against Jameela Jamil.
You know Jameela Jamil. Even if her name escapes you, you know her face:
TV presenter, radio presenter, and more recently feminist and equality activist. Jameela created a community or sanctuary for those who felt the internet was not safe for them; iweigh.
The community promotes mental health awareness, body positivity, LGBTQIA+ equality. There are articles shining the spotlight on minorities (Jameela being one herself, of course; the child of Asian parents), and interviews with the likes of Sam Smith about gender identity.
So why were people attacking Jameela?
The answer is Legendary.
What is Legendary?
Legendary is an upcoming reality TV show based around the LGBTQ+ sub-culture of Ballroom.
No, not ballroom dancing; there will be no Strictly sambas on Legendary.
So what is Ballroom?
Good question. As a LGBT member (if I can call myself that), I had no clue. It turns out it's basically a dance competition(?). LGBT people (usually split into Butch Queens, Femme Queens, Butches, Women) compete in houses (can I be Gryffindor?!). Each house is overseen by a "mother" and "father"; kind of akin to drag where an aspiring artist will have a well-established drag queen teach them the ropes. The dancing (a loose term for it) includes "voguing".
So what's the issue?
Jameela has been cast as a judge on Legendary - and people (the gays) have lost their sh*t.
Jameela isn't LGBT; she shouldn't be a judge on something so embeded in LGBT culture
Jameela knows nothing about ballroom; she shouldn't be a judge
Fair play to Jameela, to "justify" her casting she came out as Queer (a loose term which can mean anything you want it to really). Her other justification (which I think has more credence) is that as a celebrity with a following, she will hopefully be able to bring a wider audience to something that is, otherwise, quite niche and unknown. Additionally, as someone unfamiliar with ballroom, she can judge from the "layman's" point of view as to how entertaining (or not) it is as a whole.
Solid response, I'd say. But it got me thinking about how such a response was not needed, because, in actual fear, no outrage was needed.
The LGBT community always pushes its agenda onto others in relation to living label-free, and not-being-put-in-boxes, and the freedom-to-express-oneself. Yet here they were assuming Jameela's own sexual identity and labelling her. Here they were putting her in a box as someone unworthy of being a judge for such a show.
RuPaul has had countless celebrities as guest judges on Drag Race. Actors, reality TV stars, singers. The one and only thing they had in common was that they were allies of the LGBT community. They don't know about the drag scene. They don't know what "look" is hard to pull together. They don't know what's good padding or a bad tuck. But does anyone bat an eyelid when they're a guest judge? No.
So why the double standard for Jameela and Legendary?
And this brought to mind a plethora of instances when society, LGBT and otherwise, have cried out against artistic choices.
The Gays tend to complain when a heterosexual male actor is cast in a gay role.
The Disabled tend to complain when an abled body actor is cast in a disabled role.
The Ethnic Minorities tend to complain when an actor outside the "intended" ethnicity is cast.
With these examples, those communities forget that they are roles to be acted out.
If a gay man portrays a gay man; how much acting is there? Doesn't the narrative matter too? If the character initially leads a heterosexual life, are there sufficient out-gay actors in Hollywood who could convincly play a heterosexual and then flip to playing a gay? I'd argue it's easier to play a homo than a hetero (ask any gay who came out late in life how much of a struggle it was lying to everyone their whole life). There will be some, yes, but are they big enough names to attract an audience? But that aside, it is acting and actors are there to act. I would argue that it shows more skill as an actor to play a sexuality with which you do not identify, than it is to play that with which you do. And aren't actors always looking to hone their craft and demonstrate their talent? How can they if we start saying; "Straight men can only play straight men"? And, like with RuPaul, when it's reversed, it's applauded. Luke Evans (gay) playing the seductive Dracula trying to win the heart of a female; should that role have gone to a heterosexual? Matt Bomer (gay) in Magic Mike with a wife; should that role hav gone to a heterosexual? Where's the outrage? Oh wait; there is none, because double standards do not matter, right?
Depending on the disability, there are far too numerous examples to cite where using a genuinely disabled person to play the role, just would not work. Let's look at award-winning Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawkin. How would it have worked to have had an actor who genuinely had motor-neurone disease? Would they have been able to speak the lines? Would their disability have been too severe to do the things that Stephen did before he reached his most disabled point? How would you show Stephen pre-MND if you're using an MND actor? You can't reverse the clock and show the actor pre-MND; but you can with an able-bodied actor. Two actors? One for pre-MDN and one for with? A lack of cohesion generates a lack of engagement. It's simply not realistic.
Then there are the films where the character is supposed to be a certain ethnic minority. Either due to where the story takes place, or a description of the character (when adapted from existing text). But again, why do we need the rigidity? Obviously there are times when it's necessary; to do a biopic about Mandela or Ghandi and have Ian McKellen or Idris Elba portray them respectively is wrong (here's looking at you Ben Kingsley). But when you've a series where the Ghost in the Shell takes place in Japan and is of Japanese origin, and that series is adapted into a film, artistic licence dictates that you can hire who you want. Essentially, however, you will want to hire someone you think can play the character. A character is more than their ethnicity. They are their mannerisms, they are their attitude, they are their sexuality (or lack of), and it's naive to think that for every minority there is an actor, well-enough known to pull in audiences, who has every trait; including the ethnicity. Of course there are times when there are such actors, and at those times the source material is honoured (12 Years A Slave, The Colour Purple, Black Panther, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the new Aladdin). But where there aren't, a compromise must be made. Artistic licence dictates that if you've someone who can walk the walk, talk the talk, flirt in the right way, act bashful in the right way, ooze sufficient sex appeal...but happens to look different to the source material; you go with that rather than someone who looks convincing but has an insufficient number of the other traits (or simply can't act). We also tend to see the same double standard here as with the gays; the outrage is never present when it's the opposite way round, is it? When Halle Berry practically donned white face for her role in Cloud Atlas, or Samuel L Jackson played Nick Fury (a white character), or Aaliyah in her role as an Egyptian.
When the minorities (gender, sexuality, ehtnicity) are winning, it's progress. When they're being competed against; they're being shunned. It can't be had both ways.
To sum this part; how far do we go?
Gary Oldman won awards for his portrayal of Churchill during which he wore a fat suit and prosthetics. Should the role have been given to an actor who is naturally rotund and could pass sans-make up?
Matthew McConaughey won awards for starving himself to be thin and pass as a man living with AIDS. Should the role have been given to an actor with AIDS, who was already gaunt, and who may not have been able to leave his trailer each morning due to his meds?
Acting is Acting. Let the actors act.
And to finish where we started; if Jameela wants to shine a light on a culture to which she does (or is perceived to) not belong; let her. Rejoice. Be grateful that someone with a voice is speaking.