**Content Warning: mentions of sexual assault**
Television has been afraid to seriously take on the concept of consent. Michaela Coel’s new Hulu series I May Destroy You fearlessly tackles the issue head-on. Coel stars as Arabella, a young woman who must learn how to rebuild her life with the help of her best friends, after she is roofied and sexually assaulted during a night out. Each episode is woven together to create a beautifully honest visual tapestry of the phases of healing from trauma in a society that needs to talk about consent.
Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You
I May Destroy You feels like a love letter written to survivors of sexual assault. Not in a cheesy, idealized, or romanticized way, but in a way that makes survivors actually feel seen and heard, when so often we are forced to hide these experiences and move on. You’ll cry, laugh, and you will feel enraged, as you follow the main character and her two best friends through the phases of healing.
The show is cathartic, riddled with Michaela Coel’s creative genius and candid writing. It’s also the first of its kind. Yet I May Destroy You was snubbed by the Golden Globes, while less groundbreaking shows like “Emily in Paris” which star white actresses were favored. While this points to a larger issue within the industry, even one of the writers for “Emily in Paris” felt compelled to write an article expressing her outrage at the snub.
Sex will always be a major part of life and a selling point in movies and television. Yet, in the United States today, 1 in 3 females and about 1 in 4 males experience completed or attempted rape between the ages of 11 and 17. These countless stories involving sexual assault deserve to be told too. We need to talk about consent. You need to watch I May Destroy You.
What Is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is not just rape. Sexual assault is defined as any “sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority.” Consent involves open and clear verbal or nonverbal communication that you are agreeing to engage in specific sexual activity. This is something Michaela Coel wants the audience of her show, and society at large, to become fully aware of through her storytelling.
Coel stars as the main character Arabella, with her two best friends Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia), who are three young adults trying to figure out their shit like the rest of us. At the end of the first episode, Arabella goes out for the night with friends and is roofied and raped in the bar bathroom by a man. What follows are the legal, social, psychological, spiritual, and emotional obstacles that she and many survivors must face, woven in with humor, insight, and wisdom on how to heal.
Sexual Trauma & Healing
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Answering the question of how to heal from sexual trauma is particularly complex and challenging. I May Destroy You fully acknowledges the problems that survivors face in order to find the answers. The show highlights the psychological toll the assault takes on Arabella and her friends as she faces triggers, disassociation, alienation in the social media age, depression, writer’s block, racism, homophobia, the loss of her job while in recovery, having to tell her mother, PTSD flashbacks, and an unjust legal system. Nevertheless, we watch her slowly reclaim her life and her story through themes of genuine friendship, radical empathy, community support, self-help, creativity, and the power that comes with being able to share your story and turn your pain into something meaningful.
Michaela Coel’s writing uses levity to bring us moments of comedic relief, and she ends the series in a way that is empowered, hopeful, realistic, open-ended, and refreshingly true to life. To be honest, the ending is so symbolically creative that it took me months after binging the show twice to figure out what it meant. I don’t want to give away spoilers because I want everyone to watch this show, but after the three ending scenes (you’ll know what I’m talking about) ask yourself which scenario made you the most uncomfortable and why. In this irreverent, bold last episode, Coel asks the audience: how do we view rape and gender norms as a culture, and does that influence our perception of right and wrong?
Did I mention Michaela Coel took 5 years to write this show after facing her own sexual assault and even turned down a one million dollar Netflix deal so that she could remain in full creative control? Talk about reclaiming your story.
Have you seen “I May Destroy You” yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
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