Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You is a critical success largely because of its layered and nuanced portrayal of consent, assault, and trauma.
On Sunday, after winning a BAFTA award for best leading actress (!!), Coel praised the show’s intimacy coordinator for making it possible to shoot a series that deals with such sensitive themes. (Here is where I will also quickly mention that I May Destroy You also won best mini-series.)
“Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe, for creating physical, emotional and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power without being exploited or abused in the process,” Coel said in her acceptance speech.
HBO became the first network to commit to hiring intimacy coordinators for its programming after actor Emily Meade asked HBO to hire one in 2018, ahead of the second season of The Deuce, in which she played a sex worker. She told the New York Times she had “sort of just [begun] completely detaching” from her body during sex scenes for the show, and that she ‘‘didn’t want to have to shut down and dissociate in order to do [her] job.’’
Streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu soon followed suit, and nearly two-dozen Emmy-nominated scripted shows credited intimacy coordinators in 2020, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
As the Reporter explains, intimacy coordinators act as liaisons between the actors and directors on a show or in a film, making sure that the actors are comfortable with any scenes that feature sex or nudity. Their role often starts pre-production, when they might flag actors’ concerns (or stipulations in their contracts), or clarify what a director envisions for a scene. When the cast and crew are ready to shoot, coordinators help choreograph intimate scenes and make sure the actors have privacy on set and between takes.
“I know what it is like to shoot without an intimacy director,” Coel said Sunday. “The messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew. The internal devastation for the actor. Your direction was essential to my show and I believe essential for every production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”