At 31, Michaela Coel was the first black woman to be honored to speak at the acclaimed MacTaggart Lecture. Broadcast live, the actress took the stage while the audience waited for a formal speech. In reality, Coel gave them a powerful story of resilience and growth, and revealed a secret: the injury he had suffered years earlier.
The secret has ceased to be, but this wouldn’t be the last time Coel tells the story. It was this traumatic episode that carried over to his great project, the miniseries “I May Destroy You,” which launched in 2020 and was hailed as one of the most brilliant productions of the year.
Today, at the age of 33, the British woman is described by some as “the talent of a generation”, an authentic voice among millennials. The production – which is available on “HBO” – has been spread over all lists of the best series of the year.
“In short, it is an extraordinary and dazzling performance with no false grades. Filmed with humor and ideas, talent and personality that explode perfectly with every turn, ”wrote The Guardian, who voted it the best of the best of 2020.
As the author of two series, the subject doesn’t escape much from what she lives daily with semi-autobiographical themes and characters. This means that in your life story many of the secrets of your scripts are hidden.
The outsider girl from the poor neighborhood
He grew up “between modern skyscrapers and medieval streets” in a social district in London. The Boakye-Collinson family was one of the few black families in the building. It was a poor area, a complex established in 1977 to accommodate many homeless people. “My home that I’m very proud of,” he confessed in 2018.
The fact that she’s one of the few black women in the neighborhood has never bothered her that much. At least until someone left a dog poop bag in the mailbox. “Who are my family’s enemies?”
It was poverty that, strangely enough, brought them to the stage. She already lived alone with her mother – a Ghanaian immigrant who had done cleaning work while studying social sciences – and was eventually enrolled in a local theater that didn’t charge anything for children to attend its workshops. “It was free and cheaper than paying someone to look after me. I registered when I was eight. He was the only black person in the school. “
He was a teenager when he discovered the power of the internet and was able to create a completely anonymous website: “The most powerful weapon a 13-year-old girl could have”.
He started to write. About colleagues, about school, about life, often in harsh words. It was a kind of internet bullying, and as was to be expected, the weapon was used on oneself.
“It was a new era: it had a sharper knife, a silent weapon with unlimited bullets, and an anonymous trigger. delicious. At least until I was on the wrong side of the gun. They called me “the big lip coconut that made three needles last week,” he said.
“Coconut is an insult used to describe who is black on the outside and white on the inside. What they saw when they looked at the first black woman in school history [a instituição católica onde estudou] who signed up for the Irish dance team. But brooches? I was angry. The only thing that blew was the clarinet, ”he recalled.
Outsider status meant he was also the target of tough bullying sessions, shut down in a room, and insulted – which he didn’t come out of until tears came.
Anger was poured onto the blog in a harsh, sometimes good-natured, and occasionally self-deprecating way. “I pooped myself for everything.”
Older, she dropped out of university twice before realizing it was theater that she wanted to do. At the age of 23, he enrolled in an acting class at the Silk Street Theater, a talented place where agents were actively recruited.
Here, too, Coel was in the minority: she was the only black woman enrolled in the past five years. “The headmaster called me ‘the elephant in the room’,” he recalls.
The stroke of luck came with “Chewing Gum”, a screenplay he wrote for a final project of a theater course. The play was produced in a small London theater, followed by others.
The play was a success: In a monologue, Coel told the story of Tracey Gordon, the story of a 14-year-old girl. The producers at FremantleMedia saw her talent and helped her sell the story on Channel 4.
The proposal was accepted and resulted in a telefilm. Tracey was now a young woman of 24, a devout and devout Catholic who lets herself be seduced by sex – again, Coel introduces biographical details who clung to religion before breaking free.
Finally the big hit
“I made myself the right to work in the office. had an episode to deliver at seven in the morning. I took a break and went out for a drink with a friend in the area, “he recalled the 2018 talk.” Many hours later, I didn’t notice it until I was writing the second season. I was lucky. She gave me a look back and I realized that I had been raped by strangers. “
This is the start of “I May Destroy You” and the experience of Arabella, a thousand year old writer who made herself famous on Twitter without undressing or getting dressed. More autobiographical than that would be practically impossible.
However, this was not the only experience of harassment and abuse he suffered. Coel also revealed a London producer’s approach during a party. “Do you know how much I want to fuck you now?” Said the man the actress didn’t want to name. “I turned around and went home. The person who came to the party with me called me later. Someone had called him “black”. He was the same man, ”he recalls.
The truth is, Coel brought all of these experiences together and turned them into his great work. At 33 you can be proud of the fact that you have written, conceived, performed and interpreted a miniseries. It is not for everyone. Especially when we take into account the success that “I May Destroy You” has achieved among critics.
Arabella’s role is definitely her biggest and greatest on-screen presence. He went through several successful productions, but always with small roles: he made two episodes of the British hit “Top Boy”; was honored to say three words on Star Wars: The Last Jedi; and appeared in two chapters of “Black Mirror”.
Arabella is Coel’s character in “I Can Destroy You”
That story could have been very different if Coel had accepted Netflix’s millionaire proposal. In 2017, the streaming giant will have offered a million euros to keep the rights to the miniseries. Coel demanded a percentage of the production rights. When he got no, he said goodbye
“I asked for five percent, and on the other end of the call, all I heard was silence. The executive said, “We don’t do it like that here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big problem. ‘And I said if it wasn’t a big problem I’d like to keep my five percent. “Still trying to drop to 0.5 percent with no success. “I’m not crazy. This is crazy,” he said to himself at the end. Then came the BBC, which gave him full creative control over the miniseries – and HBO joined the project.
The audience loved it. Critics too. Everything indicated that Coel and “I May Destroy You” would be the big sensation of the long-awaited award season. But as soon as the nominations for the Golden Globes came in, disillusionment set in. It has been described as the nudge of the year, that is, the most shocking rejection.
Although he already had a BAFTA in his pocket to interpret the television series “Chewing Gum” that followed the television film, Coel was more ambitious. He had to settle for a nomination for better interpretation in a Screen Actors Guild miniseries where he will face Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy and Kerry Washington.
Even with the absence in Globos, everyone knows that it won’t be the last time we hear from Michaela Coel – the woman who was forcibly added to the “Zeit” list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and the “ Vogue Influential Women of the Year “British”. And the final argument is visible to all: the 12 episodes of “I May Destroy You”, available on “HBO Portugal”.