I can destroy you: why Michaela Coel’s drama is a real gamechanger TV | TV & radio


There is a moment from episode 1 of I May Destroy You that can send the heart rate of anyone who has already procrastinated in overdrive. Author Arabella, played by Michaela Coel – also creator, writer and co-director of the series – is about to get a sleepless night at her agent’s Soho office. The agitated rap of Little Simz’s Picture Perfect traces his journey on a bus, with generally dirty windows, through the streets of London. A Twitter star, she was signed up to write a follow-up to her successful debut Chronicles of a Fed Up Millennial, a book you imagine could have been vividly sold as “a black man, British Sex and the City”.Except that the sleepless night never comes. Arabella packs her stuff, which includes caffeine tablets, into a neat pile. She opens her laptop. The scene becomes silent, the soundtrack is silent. She looks at her screen and looks a little more, restarts her music, smokes a cigarette. She looks at the sentence tapped on the screen: “So Tina, in her thirties, could not understand why you, Terrell, also in his thirties, would take him there on a first date. Neither do I. »The cursor blinks. She google a sentence that solidifies both hers and the panic of viewers: “How to write quickly”. So she pauses. A fuzzy Technicolor of pink hair and a multicolored cardigan, she meets her friends in a bar called Ego Death – that is to say, a total loss of identity. A nightmare of procrastination becomes a fun evening, then something much more serious. Drugs are taken. A drink is doped. The next morning, she does not remember anything, except for a silhouette that looms above her, raping her. She stuffs it, but, as such tests are used to, it boils again.

Since the start of its two weekly episodes last month, Coel’s drama – about a group of young black Londoners sailing with friends, dating and the ubiquity of sexual abuse – has been presented by critics on both sides of the Atlantic as the show of the year. He was inspired by Coel’s own experience with sexual assault while directing the sitcom for Channel 4 Chewing Gum, his winning pastel-colored comedy by Bafta, an incident she revealed in her MacTaggart lecture. 2018 at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Although I May Destroy You is a completely different proposition from Chewing Gum, who followed a 24-year-old trying to balance a hyper-religious family with a growing interest in sex, Coel’s talent for surprising you with humor remains. No less when Arabella’s best friend, aspiring actor Terry (Weruche Opia), told police investigating the assault that Arabella’s boyfriend is an Italian drug lord, followed by ” joke! Delivered half a time too late.

Diving into the world of party or starvation in London’s creative industries, he shares a central premise with Girls – where protagonist Lena Dunham famously declared that “she could be the voice of my generation.” Or, at least, a voice of a generation “- but without its privilege, situated instead in a London where its socially mobile but materially deprived protagonists dance in a garage of the 00s in a gentrified bar, visiting a council apartment one day and brilliant publishers’ office the next. The novel is overused when it comes to the post-Wire TV landscape, but here Coel gives a feeling of moving between different worlds in the same city like Hanif Kureishi or Zadie Smith, each contrasting vision of London sparkling with realism.

At its heart, this is a series on control. The question is whether self-determination – that ideology at the heart of Coel’s teen neoliberal Britain – is enough to transcend your past. (In a heartbreaking scene, Arabella talks about how she didn’t like the feminist cause when she was younger, because she had been too “busy being black and poor.”) It’s about whether you can stop the people around you making serious mistakes. It’s about whether you can have control over your body when people do horrible, half-memorized things to you – and maybe even things that you and they can remember, but that are just as terrible. The question is whether you can also control your mind by focusing on personal care or whether it is also punctuated with painful memories. As the series unfolds, Coel also manages to keep control of our emotions, to cope with and control the trauma as needed.

Upcoming streets… (from left) Paapa Essiedu, Michaela Coel and Weruche Opia. Photography: Natalie Seery / BBC

Although sexual assault is not at the center of every interaction or scene, it provides the backdrop from which everything else emerges. His silent presence shows that sexual abuse is something that exists inside our world rather than a threat from afar – something that you, I or someone else may have experienced without even realizing that was happening. This happens to Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a gay man experienced in the art of Grindr connection. This still happens to Arabella, in apparently safer circumstances. This happens to Terry in a scenario that she initially considers stimulating. It’s traumatic. It’s boring. It’s bureaucratic. It’s subtle.

This is of course not the first performance to intelligently tackle the horror of sexual assault. Amazing, Netflix’s 2019 adaptation of Pulitzer’s article about a young woman treated as a suspect in her own rape case, was praised for showing the inherent injustice of the American justice system when it comes to sexual assault . However, where Incredible was an extremely dark series – in which an entire episode could be devoted to the search for a “Bad Man” – I May Destroy You has a rare lightness of contact, Coel acknowledging that sometimes the Bad Man, or The woman is already in our field of vision.


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