Jamil with her boyfriend, James Blake Photograph: Kate Green/ Alpha Press
It’s easy to be bold about presenting your true face to the world when it is as naturally gorgeous as Jamil’s; in person, her big brown eyes, long, messy black hair and curvy figure build her seem nearly cartoonishly beautiful. And on her Instagram account, she posts plenty of flattering selfies.” I’m all for wearing nice clothes and enjoying yourself, but that’s just a fraction of the things I’m interested in ,” she says.” I make sure I put my writing out there and my campaigning, and I hope the image I’ve projected is a rounded one .” She is looking down and speaking more softly than before, as if she’s still figuring it all out. Does it actually help girls and women to be told to feel better about themselves when the person doing the telling looks like a model? Jamil winces a little, because she doesn’t see it like that. She talks about her” unsexy personality” and” total clumsiness”, which would come across a little like Miss America insisting they’re actually super-dorky because they wear glasses had Jamil not experienced so much bully about her appearance as a child.
Whether about her weight, or her skin colour, the bully went on for as long as she can remember. By the age of 12, she was 5ft 10 in and big for her age, her face covered in acne and braces, and at her private all-girls school in London( she was on a scholarship ), it was relentless.” They called me the Fat Paki ,” she recalls.
But that’s not even a pun!
” I know, it’s like my early rap name .”
As recently as 2016, she was racially abused in London.” I was in Notting Hill the day after the referendum and someone said,’ Go home, Paki !’ The day after! I was like,’ How long have you been waiting to say that, mate ?'” she says, both amused and furious.
When she was 14, Jamil developed an eating disorder that she now sees as an attempt to gain some control over a life that felt chaotic, and to fit in with the girls at school ,” although it didn’t help “. She credits a major accident with changing such courses of their own lives- she was 17 when a auto made her, damaging her spine. She was stuck in bed for a year and thought she’d never be able to walk again without a Zimmer frame.” There’s something about not being able to move that gives you a new respect for your body, and I candidly think that collision saved me .”
Throughout all this, Jamil’s home life was difficult; her mothers were unhappily married and divorced when she was very young. She was also sexually assaulted by strangers twice.The first time happened when she was 12 and walking along Oxford Street when a man grabbed her by the crotch.” At 3.30 in the afternoon in front of John Lewis, for God’s sake ,” she near wails. When he wouldn’t let go, she had to run down the street and hurl herself against a wall to shake him off, then run away. When she was 15, she was dragged by a stranger into a vehicle-” in Belsize Park! The more affluent part of London !”- and was saved only because a stranger insured her struggling.” I never considered those experiences traumatic up to now, because I thought they happened to everyone and were normal. And now I realise that maybe that’s true, but it shouldn’t be .”
This realisation has emboldened her to speak out against the movie industry. Jamil feels some things have improved, thanks to the #MeToo motion:” weird and sleazy producers” no longer suggest meetings at 9pm and men don’t even try to hug, let alone kiss her, at the end of a session. But the situation “re a long way from” perfect. Jamil is close friends with Daniele Bernfeld, a movie executive who was viciously assaulted by the actor Emile Hirsch in 2015; Hirsch was given a fine and sentenced to 15 days in jail.” But he’s never stopped working- meanwhile, my friend has PTSD ,” Jamil says with palpable frenzy. Hirsch is now attaining Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s film about the Charles Manson assassinations- a film about the death of a woman, Sharon Tate, directed by a human who has admitted he knew that Harvey Weinstein assaulted females, co-starring a human who assaulted a woman.
” It is so darknes. How dare any of the people involved in that movie wear Time’s Up pins to the Golden Globes? Can people simply not hire men who have almost killed women ?” she says.
And yet, there are plenty of women who, at the very least, play down male violence. Not long before Jamil and I satisfy, Germaine Greer, for reasons known only to her, told an audience at the Hay festival:” Instead of thinking of rape as a spectacularly violent crimes- and some rapes are- think about it as non-consensual, that is bad sex .”
” Bloody, bloody Germaine Greer !” Jamil shouts, startling everyone around us.” Rape is not bad sex. She merely needs to get in the bin and live there and set up shop there. And the older French women !” she adds, referring to the letter 100 French females, including Catherine Deneuve, signed, condemning the #MeToo campaign for its” hatred of men and sexuality “.
” I wonder if older females looked at and realise they’ve experienced trauma and want us to stop talking about it, because they don’t want to think about it. But we’re just trying to stop it happening to the new generations of girls ,” she says.
Does Jamil ever worry that being outspoken might hurt her career?
” Oh, I don’t care about that. I can’t not say this because then you become a double agent for the patriarchy, which has always been my biggest anxiety .”
And yet one awkward fact remains: that her administrator is Dave Becky, who is not only Ansari’s manager, but also the former administrator of Louis CK, who admitted to sexual misconduct last year. Becky was accused by two of CK’s victims of telling them not to talk about it, and later issued a public apology.
” He’s no longer Louis CK’s director ,” she says with a nervous chuckle.” But I decided to be with him because he represents so many women I admire .”( Becky also represents Amy Poehler, Issa Rae and Natasha Lyonne .)
And neither he nor Schur ever warned her off talking about Ansari?
” No. Never .”
Almost every feminist is familiar with the idea of making a compromise to get on in the modern world, and if you work in the amusement business you are more familiar than most. And if there are certain elements Jamil is still figuring out , no one can doubt her gallantry in doing this just as she embarks on her Hollywood career.
Her boyfriend, James Blake, has been a huge source of the assistance provided. They knew each other in London, but got together when they moved to LA at the same hour.” Living with him has been very determine for me ,” she says. And in turn her campaigning has been eye-opening for Blake:” He’s seen the impact of constructing yourself a voice of reason to the people you’re lucky enough to reach .”
There is an obvious irony in that it took coming to LA, in many ways the global epicentre of body neuroses and abuse enablement, to turn Jamil into a warrior on behalf of women’s self-image and safety at work. But she says it was being here that pushed her over the edge. And, set like that, it’s depressing that more women haven’t had that reaction, too.
” I merely cannot stay silent any more, I can’t ,” she says.” I don’t care if I’m going down- I’m going down in flames. I’m fine to not work in this industry. But I’m not penalty to not say something .”
* The Good Place returns to Netflix in the autumn
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