Jameela Jamil is opening up about her sexuality — and hopes to use her platform to elevate the voices of marginalized communities.
In a tweet Wednesday, the Good Place actress came out as queer and addressed the controversy surrounding her new judging (and executive producing) role on HBO Max’s ballroom scene show Legendary.
“Twitter is brutal. This is why I never officially came out as queer,” she started. “I added a rainbow to my name when I felt ready a few years ago, as it’s not easy within the south Asian community to be accepted, and I always answered honestly if ever straight-up asked about it on Twitter. But I kept it low because I was scared of the pain of being accused of performative bandwagon jumping, over something that caused me a lot of confusion, fear and turmoil when I was a kid.”
“It’s also scary as an actor to openly admit your sexuality, especially when you’re already a brown female in your thirties,” she added. “This is absolutely not how I wanted it to come out.”
The 33-year-old then said she would be taking a break from Twitter to skip over the mean comments she’s received.
“I know that my being queer doesn’t qualify me as ballroom,” she continued. “But I have privilege and power and q large following to bring this show… Sometimes it takes those with more power to help a show get off the ground so we can elevate marginalized stars that deserve the limelight and give them a chance.”
“I really want to utilize my platform to share with other communities that need to be highlighted,” she told PEOPLE. “I think that this community deserves more attention and more love. And it shouldn’t only exist on the outskirts.”
Featuring 10 real voguing houses, the unscripted, 10-episode show will follow divas of each house as they compete in choreographed dances and fashion contests. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion, stylist Law Roach and voguing legend Leiomy Maldonado — whom Jamil calls “the greatest ballroom dancer of all time” — will also be judges on the show.
Following the announcement of Jamil’s position on the show, some LGBT people and active members of the ballroom scene criticized her inclusion on the show. The show pays homage to the iconic ballroom scene pioneered by black and Latinx queer people.
“Damn they done skipped over the WHOLE community for this huh lol,” wrote Adrian Xpression, leader of the House of Xpression, on Twitter.
“Billy Porter is right there!!!!!!!!!! Indya Moore is right there!!!!!!!!” tweeted pop culture critic Hanna, referring to the cast of Pose, an award-winning drama that follows members of the ballroom scene in he 1980s and 90s. “Angelica!!!! Ross!!!! Is!!! Right!!!! There!!!!!!!!!”
For Jamil, being featured on the show allows her to introduce ball culture to her fans.
“I’m not the star of this show,” Jamil says. “I’m just one person in it who will bring my fanbase to watch it. Leiomy is the star and the dancers are the stars.”
“There’s a lot of black queer and black trans people in this community, and they aren’t understood by a lot of people in this world,” she adds. “And the stuff that we read about in the news about them is always in a negative way, and they’re sensational in so many positive ways, and to be able to show that it’s so important to me.”
Also on her Wednesday statement, Jamil directly addressed the concerns about Legendary not starring ballroom stars in main roles.
“It’s f—g hard to be asked to continue to be patient after so long of waiting for what you want. I know that,” she wrote. “South Asian stories are almost never told without white stars. But I hope you don’t let a few castings designed to help the show get off the ground, stop you from supporting the talent from Ballroom on this show. They really are f—g amazing and I’m really honoured to work with them.”
Jamil also clarified on Instagram that she will be executive producing the show and not be an MC, as an HBO press release and some reports claimed.
“I am just trying to use my platform and privilege to make sure important stories are told about groups that society needs to know about/accept/celebrate,” she wrote. “I had concerns at first about joining as on-camera talent, as I’m not from the world of Ballroom. But to get these shows about minorities made, sometimes you need mainstream names that can bring their followers to watch and support shows.”
“That is what Megan Thee Stallion and I hope to bring to the ballroom community,” she continued, “Support, love, respect and allyship.”
At Tuesday’s Zumba event, Jamil also spoke about the importance of taking the time to care for oneself.
“I think doing things for yourself shouldn’t have a bad reputation,” she says. “I think it’s really vital to maintaining your resources. Otherwise, you just run dry and then there’s nothing left for anyone else. I think I’m a better person for all the people around me for the time that I take this for myself so I’m 100% energy and 100% happiness. It makes me a better person to be around.”
“With women, I feel like we’re just expected to have endless resources and never take time out for ourselves,” she adds. “A lot of exercise is about looking thinner or looking hotter for other people. A lot of the exercise still becomes about other people. [Zumba] is just for you.”