By Raquel Pacheco
As turbulent and challenging this year has been, 2020 has served us with notoriously good television series. At the start of march, all productions were delayed due to the worldwide pandemic. Nonetheless, TV land never fails to surprise us and has continued to create new and astounding series, forcing us to binge-watch.
However, the Chewing Gum lead Michaela Coel has served us with her unmissable HBO drama series “I May Destroy You” which tackles sexual assault. Coel blatantly takes this series to a whole new level by portraying an exploration of race, sex and consent.
Following on from our article TV Shows that shed light on mental health, it now seems like the perfect time to discuss why “I May Destroy You” is so incredibly important and how it has offered some of the most breathtaking moments of TV.
“I May Destroy You”, tells the story of young writer Arabella, played by Coel – also the series’ writer and creator – who is writing the first draft of her novel at her agent’s office in Soho. After meeting an old friend, Arabella has her drink spiked and becomes the victim of sexual assault, changing her world forever. The series recounts Arabella’s attempt to find out what happened while navigating love and relationships, and her life in London as a young black writer trying to push her career to the next level.
“I May Destroy You” definitely explores the devastating experience to which sexual assault survivors go through, however, Coel decides to dig deeper into the complexities of sexual assault and not only how it affects survivors but also their friends and communities. We watch Arabella experience memory loss, continual dissociation from her surroundings and PTSD.
She bravely endures this while trying to live her life and take control of her career as normal as possible – a truth which sexual assault survivors know too well as everything around them seems to go back to normal.
A series about control
But the fascinating part about Coel’s HBO drama, also filled with dark humour, is the way sexual abuse is portrayed and how it shrewdly rewrites harmful misconceptions about assault. Insightfully, it manages to show sexual abuse as something which lives and has always lived inside our world rather than a danger we picture far away – an experience we may have gone through without realising it was actually happening.
It happens to Arabella’s friend Terry (Weruche Opia), in circumstances which she originally considers empowering. It happens to Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), Arabella’s gay friend who regularly uses Grindr. It happens to Arabella again in circumstances which initially seemed safe. It’s disquieting, traumatic, and it consistently happens.
Nonetheless, as the series goes on, there’s a sense of power which becomes increasingly palpable. It is a series about control. As it unfolds, Coel portrays how terrible, traumatic events may happen to us, and we can have control over our body and mind.
It’s about self-determination, and she expresses how what doesn’t kill you may not make you stronger, but perhaps it won’t destroy you either.
There have been many documentaries and films which have educated us and had a massive impact on the way we view certain topics, so if you’re interested in learning more about these, you can also read our article on the best social justice movies & documentaries.