One day in 2018, Michaela Coel, who was not yet “Michaela Coel” at the time, invited her friends to see Stranger Things at home. She made them burritos with lots of onion. When they sat down to watch the series, a moth got into the house. He grabbed the bug spray and sprayed so much all over the house that no one could breathe. Except for her, who, on the other hand, did not notice the smell of onion either. This is how he realized that he suffered from anosmia, loss of smell.
He was then convinced that the lack of smell did nothing but sharpen his other senses. “And, clinging to that belief, surely false, I found a way to deal with the loss while avoiding feelings of panic, confusion and vulnerability,” he explains in his essay. Marginalized, which will publish Today’s Topics in early October. The book is actually the reproduction of the lecture this actress, screenwriter and director gave at the Edinburgh television festival in 2018. The McTaggart masterclass, which had always fallen to veteran television executives and long-time stars, had never transcended outside of the confines of the sector until it was entrusted to Coel, the first black woman to have that honor, and before she turned 30 — now she is 33. He used that long hour to throw what one magazine described as a “hand grenade” at those present.
She explained how she had gotten there from the London neighborhood of Tower Hamlets, with a Ghanaian migrant mother who raised her and her sister alone, combining her work as a nurse with cleaning houses, something that Coel herself would do as well. He recounted his traumatic stint at the elite Guildhall drama school. And incidentally, he told all those gathered what happened to him one day when he left his production company late, where he had locked himself in to write a pilot. She went to a bar, they put something in her drink, they raped her. The next day he did not remember anything and only after much reflection and therapy was he able to rebuild that hellish night. “There she was, which is what we all want: a young, colored woman cool who is also a fantastic writer, the Holy Grail of television. And she was telling us that it had all been shit for her, ”explained one of those present, the BBC’s chief dramatist, Piers Wenger.
The rape story is known by anyone who has seen I could destroy you, the series co-produced by HBO and the BBC that opts for nine emmys the next day 19, among them the best series of limited duration, best script and best leading actress. “Experiential series, in the first person, have been an important trend for years, but what Coel does here is groundbreaking. It is often compared to Fleabag, but his thing is much more poignant ”, believes Víctor Sala, director of the Serielizados festival. “It puts almost all of the current feminist agenda on the table: consent, rape, abuse of power, sexual abuse, narcissism in networks, sisterhood, liquid friendships, dating applications and the culture of cancellation”, list Enric Pardo, screenwriter and co-creator of the series look what you have done and surrendered admirer of Coel, like 100% of the audiovisual industry. Jac Schaeffer, who competes with her as the creator of Scarlet Witch and Vision, said to Variety: “I think everything he does is groundbreaking in the truest sense of the word.” Somehow, everyone knows that Coel plays on another level.
In addition to this ability to braid, as Pardo points out, what separates Coel from other contemporary creators is his stance towards the industry. In the same conference McTaggart explained that Netflix had offered him a million dollars for his series, after broadcasting his first work, Chewing Gum, but in exchange they asked him to give up the rights. Coel refused. “I have no mortgage, no credit card, no children, no car. My bike suits me well. Money is fine, but I prefer transparency. My stories are my babies, I want to take care of them, so I asked to keep a portion of my maternal rights, my copyright”. That gesture, which contains a certain radicality, acquires more value when whoever does it is someone who is supposed to be constantly thanking them for being there. Coel, who suffered bullying in her Catholic school and had a stage of evangelical fervor in her early twenties that she herself satirizes in Chewing Gum, he refuses to participate in that cliché of the grateful poor and the eternal migrant.
“People who migrate are not migrating all the time. We must stop telling people that we are not white as eternal newcomers ”, claims the journalist and writer Lucía Mbomío, to whom Coel’s work generates a special echo, also due to the alchemy, not always fluid, between feminism and anti-racism. “In the series, she realizes that she has been worried about being black all her life and, as a result of the rape, she realizes that she is also a woman. Many times throughout your life you end up clinging to only one of the faces that make up your multifaceted identity, as Amin Maalouf says. They didn’t call me a ‘shitty girl’, they called me a ‘shitty black girl’, so I came late to feminism, like her ”. Mbomío is immersed in the preparation of her own series, she is with Netflix, an adaptation of her novel Daughter of the road. All the scriptwriters are of African descent and have a lighthouse in Coel. “I love that it exists. It helps all of us have more value to count on ”.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.