‘I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault’: Michaela Coel’s revolutionary voice
TW: Sexual Assault
The 1st of October marked the start of Black History Month and here at Reclaim the Campus we have been taking the time to discuss the Black, British women we find most inspirational. Personally, although many come to mind, Michaela Coel’s work has made such an impression on me over the last few years I felt compelled to write about her influence.
Growing up in East London with her mother and sister, a lot of her work reflects her upbringing, such as her experience at primary school in Tower Hamlets where she was the only Black pupil in her year. Going on to find her feet in secondary school and then attending university in Birmingham, and then the Guildhall Drama School, Coel began performing at open mic nights and gigs across London. Her award-winning series Chewing Gum, released in 2015, based on her own play Chewing Gum Dreams, sees a young woman explore her sexual desires as a religious virgin growing up in a Black household. The series discusses sex in a light-hearted yet ultra-relatable way and made me genuinely laugh out loud, so if you haven’t watched it, I highly suggest you do.
But, a stark contrast to her somewhat immature character in Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel’s next series, I May Destroy You, told the story of a survivor of rape, played by Coel herself. An incredibly hard-hitting narrative, the series follows a group of friends as they all experience, and come to terms with, sexual assault in different forms. There are so many important topics covered throughout the 12 episode series including stealthing; drink spiking; date rape; non-consensual filming of sex; the under-reporting of gay sexual assault; racism; homophobia; and the all too frequent dropping of sexual assault cases. I May Destroy You made me laugh at times, and cry at others, in a way that I think perfectly portrays real life and demonstrates how everyone has either experienced, or knows someone that has experienced, sexual assault. Again, if you haven’t seen it, you need to, although some scenes and themes covered are distressing.
Coel has since deservedly won awards for her work, winning BAFTAs for Best Female Comedy Performance for her role in Chewing Gum and for Breakthrough Talent for the shows’ writing in 2016. I May Destroy You was also a hit with critics, winning 33 awards including 2 BAFTAs and 2 Emmys with Michaela being the first Black woman to win Outstanding Writing For A Limited Or Anthology Series. The Emmy Awards, held only a few weeks ago, was a night to remember for Coel fans as she not only looked the epitome of grace at the ceremony wearing a beautiful yellow ensemble by Christopher John Rogers, but her powerful acceptance speech stood out from the night as one to remember. Keeping it relatively short, Coel addressed all those listening and encouraged them to “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable”. But, most significantly, she finished her speech by dedicating her award to “every single survivor of sexual assault”.
Throughout her work, Coel uses her lived experience to highlight intersectionality and showcase the struggle of being both a woman and a person of colour and tirelessly continues to be a voice for survivors of sexual assault. I strongly believe that everyone should be made familiar with her work, particularly I May Destroy You, and I eagerly await her next series or production which no doubt will also be just as engrossing and thought-provoking.
Chewing Gum is currently available to watch on Netflix.
I May Destroy You is also available to watch on BBC iPlayer.