Arabella’s I May Destroy You Speech Was Inspired By This Incredible Michaela Coel Talk, That You Need To Watch

Michaela was the fifth woman to give the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture during the Edinburgh Television Festival.

Michaela Coel gives the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture during the Edinburgh Television Festival.

by Grazia Contributor |
Updated on

In her phenomenal new TV show I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel, as her onscreen character Arabella Essiedu, an author, stands in front of an audience ostensibly to read from her book. Only, she begins to speak not from the pages in front of her but from her own experience, revealing that she had been assaulted by someone in the room, Zain, when he took a condom off during sex and then gaslighted and intimidated her after the event.

The drama and discussion in I May Destroy You is centred on one night - a different night and a different assault. Arabella goes out in London with some friends, before getting her drink spiked after which she is sexually assaulted, leaving her trying to rebuild her life. Just as Arabella’s sexual assault in the BBC drama is inspired by Michaela’s own real life assault (which she has revealed happened when she was working on her comedy series Chewing Gum) the scene in which Arabella speaks out about it to a crowd of people was inspired by real life too. In 2018 Michaela became only the fifth woman to give the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture during the Edinburgh Television Festival.

In the lecture Michaela recalled her own attack, which - like Arabella’s in IMDY- happened when she was hours away from a deadline whilst working on the Bafta winning series in London, Michaela said: ‘I was working overnight in the (production) company’s offices.

‘I had an episode due at 7am. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby. I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky. I had a flashback. It turned out I’d been sexually assaulted by strangers. The first people I called after the police, before my own family, were the producers. How do we operate in this family of television when there is in an emergency?

‘Overnight I saw them morph into an anxious team of employers and employees alike, teetering back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all.'

She added that the production company she worked with sent her to a private clinic, ‘a service they offer to staff when in need’, and that they also funded therapy.

Michaela added: ‘Like any other experience I’ve found traumatic, it’s been therapeutic to write about it, and actively twist a narrative of pain into one of hope, and even humour.’

The East London born actress has earned huge acclaim both here and in the States for IMDY and her uncompromising and nuanced interpretation of assault and the aftermath. It wasn’t an easy journey though, taking several years to write and finalise the right production deal. In a new interview with New York magazine, Michaela revealed that she turned down a $1million deal with Netflix because they refused to negotiate on a percentage of the show’s copyright, Later that year, Michaela pitched I May To Destroy You to the BBC, where she was emailed explaining the network had granted her everything she asked for, including a production title, creative control and the rights to her own work. ‘It was an amazing email,’ she told the magazine.

I May Destroy You airs on Monday nights on BBC 1, and is on iPlayer

READ MORE: 'It's Rare And Refreshing': Why So Many Rape Survivors Rate I May Destroy You

READ MORE: Go Behind The Scenes On Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You

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