Jameela Jamil: ‘I won’t become a double agent for the patriarchy’

Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'

The former presenter turned The Good Place star on why she refuses to stay silent about the aftermath of #MeToo, unhealthy body ideals and the tabloid media

Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'

When British celebrities make it big in the US, they go through a by now familiar process of becoming Hollywoodified: they get thinner, more groomed, less fun, all the while insisting that their occasional deployment of a quaint British swearword proves they haven’t changed a bit. This is not Jameela Jamil.

” We can not talk in here, it’s too fucking crowded ,” Jamil, the former T4 presenter turned US sitcom star, proclaims, looking around the private members’ club. I’d indicated it because it’s near what is now her home in West Hollywood, which she shares with her boyfriend of three years, the musician James Blake. But as we walk through the club she decrees it” a bit you know, whatever , you know what I mean ?” All around us, people are wearing the regulation attires of LA beautiful people: long dress with sandals, or designer jeans with vintage T-shirts and expensive trainers. Jamil, by contrast, is wearing an absurdly short and tight dress with chunky heels. Her hair and makeup look endearingly unpolished.

” I like to do it myself, because I don’t like being contoured ,” she says, referring to the makeup trick that creates the illusion of a thinner face and higher cheekbones, popularised by Kim Kardashian, who we’ll get at in a minute.” Also, I invariably get made up to look a different ethnicity- whiter .” If the former breakfast Tv presenter Cat Deeley looked born and bred in Santa Monica five minutes after landing here to present So You Suppose You Can Dance, Jamil still looks like a London girl on her way to Camden Market.

Most British people still know Jamil best from her day as a presenter on Radio 1, and her three-year stint on pop culture present T4, from 2009, where she was a fun and lively interviewer who, for example, informed Russell Brand live their lives air that interviewing him was ” a nightmare “. But in the US she has become a bona fide star, thanks to her role in NBC’s The Good Place, made by the people behind Parks And Recreation. Set in the afterlife and co-starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, The Good Place is one of those rare shows that manages to be very smart and extremely silly, in which extended discussions about Kierkegaard and Plato( as the characters try to figure out if they’re good or bad) rub up against jokes about Blue Ivy and James Franco. Jamil is very funny as Tahani, a Little Miss Perfect socialite who namedrops for Britain:” I haven’t been this upset since my good friend Taylor was rudely upstaged by my other good friend Kanye, who was defending my best friend, Beyonce .” The depict has just finished shooting its third season.

After a breast cancer scare at the age of 28, Jamil decided she would no longer wait to do the things she wanted to do. So she moved to LA in 2015, originally hoping to find work as a screenwriter. To her surprise, her director convinced her to audition for The Good Place instead and, even though she had never acted before, she got the proportion. Initially, she begged the show’s creator, Michael Schur, to rethink his decision,” because I didn’t want to make an absolute tit of myself in front of the entire world “.

Jameela - Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
Dress, Adam Selman at Desperate LA; cuff and ring, Leigh Miller Jewelry; shoes, the palatines. Photo: Ramona Rosales for the Guardian

Like Tom Haverford, the character in Parks And Recreation played by an Indian-American actor( Aziz Ansari) but portrayed on the display as simply American, Jamil, whose parents are Indian and Pakistani, plays a character who is defined by her Englishness; her ethnicity is not an issue. Similarly, the two young male results are played by an African-American( William Jackson Harper) and a Filipino-Canadian( Manny Jacinto ), and in neither example is their ethnicity a bar to them having on-screen romances with women from other backgrounds. It’s not so much colourblind casting as colour-neutral, an extreme rarity in mainstream US TV.

” There was a moment when we were filming season one when I realised I was in a scene with two other women from south Asian backgrounds, and it wasn’t commented on in the reveal or anything ,” Jamil says.” And “weve all” shocked by this, for our race to not be fetishised in some way, and we were shocked by how shocked we were .”

Meanwhile, Jamil has taken on another high-profile role, that of an extremely vocal critic of celebrity culture. She started an Instagram account called I Weigh on which girls post images of themselves and say how much they “weigh”- not in kilos, but in a better quality they like about themselves (” Good friend”,” Bad vocalist”,” Loving sister”, and so on .) She made headlines earlier this year when she criticised Kim Kardashian for promoting something called an” craving suppressant lollipop “. ” Fuck off. You terrible and toxic influence on young girl ,” Jamil wrote on Twitter. Kardashian afterwards deleted the post.

On her blog, Jamil often takes the extremely unusual step- for a celebrity- of calling out journalists and fellow performers by name:” Some awful woman called Heidi Parker for the Daily Mail Online has written an article, appearance dishonor a heavily, heavily pregnant Jessica Biel ,” begins one typical entry. She wrote a smart take on the Aziz Ansari scandal, after the comedian was accused of having pressured a date into having sex, and linked a lack of interest in female permission with the rising accessibility of porn.( As it happens, Jamil shares a manager with Ansari .)

She has plenty of reasons to be critical of the British tabloid press: when she started on T4, the papers criticised her for being too thin. Then, when she gained weight after taking steroids for her asthma, she was criticised for being too fat; the tabloids published unflattering pictures of her bending over in the street.

Jameela - Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
In The Good Place. Photo: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

” Outside my home! To pick up my key! And then photos of my arse are in publications – it’s so invasive, it should be illegal. But it actually opened my eyes, because when I was a sizing 6 or 8, they only took photos of me that would make me appear good, posing on the red carpet or whatever. As soon as I was a size 10, they were want photos of you seeming bad, like, with your mouth open or eyes closed. No one tried to take my photo when I was operating when I was thin, only when I was fat ,” she says, just getting started.

She was considered fat at a size 10?” Yes! Seriously, come on. But what really upset me was that they never documented any of my professional success, such as that I was the first female to host the chart prove on Radio 1. It was always about my failure to fulfil some Victoria’s Secret prototype .”

Jamil now has a rule: that she doesn’t want any images of herself to be airbrushed. In this, she is one of a new generation of women speaking out against the artifice of celebrity photography: last year, Lupita Nyong’o criticised Grazia magazine for removing her afro ponytail; and Solange Knowles complained when theEvening Standard magazine removed her crown of braids. But I tell Jamil she’s the first person I’ve encountered who prohibits any retouching.

Jameela - Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
Stylist: Anna Su at Art Department. Hair: Robert Lopez for Solo Artists/ Oribe Haircare. Above: top, H& M; shorts, Vivetta; ring and bracelet, Leigh Miller Jewelry. Opening photo: jumpsuit, Urban Outfitters; necklace and ring, Leigh Miller Jewelry. Photograph: Ramona Rosales for the Guardian

“Really?” she says, surprised.” I don’t know any woman who’s truly happy with how they appear, because they’re always aspiring to this perfect aesthetic, and I only find it truly toxic and I’ve had enough. I did a tweet recently about a tabloid that described Queen Latifah as looks a lot like a’ beached whale’- can you imagine ?” I can, and I add that disrespecting Queen Latifah- with her decades of success- seems absurd, like disrespecting Oprah Winfrey. Jamil cocks a slightly sceptical eyebrow.” I entail, to be fair, Oprah does a lot of weight-loss endorsements, so part of Oprah’s industry is her weight-loss fluctuations, so that’s different .”

The sad truth is that many of these articles and magazines are written and edited by women .” Even if a woman edits the publication, a human owns the company and I think it’s scary to humen how independent girls can be ,” says Jamil.” It’s not in the patriarchy’s interest for us to be multifaceted. They want us to worry about how we look, because it slows us down and we’re then less likely to overtake them. Also, it benefits me to show what I truly look like, because then there’s no value in tabloid photos of me. People are used to seeing my wrinkles and spots and under-eye circles, so the paparazzi can’t’ catch me out ‘,” she says, placing heavy satire on the past three words.

James - Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
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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Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'
Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'

Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'

Jameela Jamil: 'I Won't Become A Double Agent For The Patriarchy'

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