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An evening with Jameela Jamil

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Jameela Jamil isn’t afraid to speak her mind. It doesn’t matter if this is fighting back against dieting products on social media, being candid about uncomfortable truths in interviews, or, as was the case on Friday Oct. 2, speaking to a group of MacEwan University students in a Zoom web-conference. SAMU’s Speaker Series hosted the event for an excited group of students who had the pleasure of listening to Jamil from the comfort of their own homes. And the format worked perfectly, aside from some initial technology hiccups. Jamil has entered into the public eye much due to her acting career — you may know her as Tahani Al-Jamil on the hit NBC television series The Good Place, or as a host on HBO Max’s Legendary. But her work as an activist and mental health advocate has also been garnering a lot of attention, and rightly so.

During her talk on Friday, Jamil had many poignant and relevant points. She addressed mental health, celebrity responsibility, cancel-culture misconceptions, her journey from a “social media troll” to an advocate, and her work to eliminate self-hatred toward body image. She talked about her podcast and YouTube channel “I Weigh,” which challenges society’s perception of “beautiful” by discussing the journey guests such as ALOK, Lizzo, and Sam Smith have taken to accept themselves. Jamil said, “We’re not trying to spotlight resilience, we’re trying to spotlight hope… we’re not judging you on whether you have maintained perfect stoicism or not, we just want you to know that there is a way that you can get better.” She champions the journey — not the destination: “We all believe in progress not perfection.”  

Jamil voices the character Auntie Pushpa on the new Disney series Mira, Royal Detective. The show is the first animated Disney series to feature an all-Indian cast and crew. “Well, I think it’s — it’s a bit late, isn’t it?” she broke off to say with a wry laugh. “It’s a sad state of affairs when you’re grateful that a white person isn’t playing you.” She is adamant that the entertainment industry needs to step out of the classic straight, white, cis, non-disabled box and start representing more people. Jamil is excited to show little girls that people who look just like them can absolutely be on TV. “It’s culture that makes us different. (Not colour),” she said. “The impact (equal representation) would have on the mental health of this generation, the generation before us, and the generations to come would be unbelievable.”

Jamil refers to herself as a “Feminist-in-progress,” meaning she is always learning and recognizes that she doesn’t know everything. She checks her ego at the door and says “(I) understand that sometimes my ignorance will be exposed, and I should look at that as a learning opportunity rather than a reason to quit… This veneer of perfection that celebrities have put on until now… rather than get involved in anything sticky and political… means that they haven’t been using their power and influence for anything fucking helpful whatsoever.” She does understand the hesitancy to be publicly humiliated, but notes that it is so very rare for a celebrity to actually be “cancelled.” “What they’re afraid of is just being called out,” she said.

Finally, after a thought-provoking evening, Jameela Jamil ended the conference by asking the audience to take care of themselves and practice self love. “Give yourself a break,” she said. “Don’t expect to come out of (the pandemic) with seven new skills and eight abs – just come out of this alive.”

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