If you’re not already watching Michaela Coel’s new HBO/BBC show I May Destroy You, I kindly request that you set aside some time tonight to peek out of that rock and catch up on the show. The series follows Coel as a writer named Arabella, who in the midst of filing her next book is drugged and raped after a night out in London, inspired by Coel’s own experiences. While Arabella tries to reckon with the assault, which comes back in shaky, disorienting flashbacks, the show explores issues of consent and sex within her social circle.
Coel’s debut show Chewing Gum, which had her playing the goofy, virginal Tracey, earned her two BAFTA awards. But I May Destroy You should catapult her to worldwide fame as one of the best writer, director, actresses working in television right now. In a new interview with British GQ, Coel says her friends were initially skeptical about the idea of taking inspiration from her own assault for her next TV project. She says:
I think that probably my friends may have had reservations that they didn’t share with me, because now that it’s out, some of them are like, “Well, when you told me, I wasn’t sure, but now that it’s out…” You say to somebody that you’re making a show about sexual consent and I think that people have a prejudice about what that might be. For me, this show was never, ever coming from a place of anger. It was coming from a place of curiosity and of exploration.
She also talks about fighting for ownership of her work. Coel has previously said that Chewing Gum, after news that it was maybe going to have a third season, is officially not returning:
With Chewing Gum, in hindsight I can say, “Was this a fight to be heard?” Probably. I’d say it was a fight in comparison to the way I May Destroy You has gone, but at the time when I’m fighting, I’m not getting lost in the fact that it’s a fight. I’m always focused on the story. I’m serving the show. If I have to fight to serve the show, then I have to fight to serve the show. I do not find it productive to sit there and think about the fact that I’m fighting. I need to sleep at night. I need to come to work. I need to do my job.
And she speaks about what it’s like to enter white spaces as a Black, working-class woman in an old system that “didn’t understand her,” referring to her time at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where she was the first Black woman accepted in five years:
I’ve always been a very vocal person – and it meant that by the time I graduated, I was in no delusion that this industry wasn’t going to be a tricky place. I was through the shock part, which enabled me to be better at acting and playing my part in acting – not as an actress, but when something was going wrong, I would act rather than be repressed and silence myself. That’s never been my mode. If you look through all these different shows that I’ve done, you will find that there was always a situation when Michaela got really loud. I’ve left a trail of sort of rattling the apple cart, as they call it, because I was never comfortable to just sit there. I was never worried about speaking up and I think other people are. That’s OK. Your job might not be to be loud and shake the apple carts. That is my job.
You can read the full interview here.