TV

Why Michaela Coel’s Emmy winning show I May Destroy You is more relevant now than ever in Australia

It may not be an easy watch, but it’s an important one.

By Faye Couros
Trigger Warning: this article deals with sexual assault and may be triggering to some readers, if you or someone you know needs help you can call 1800 Respect at 1800 737 732 or Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia at 1800 424 017.
This year at the Emmys, Michaela Coel made the world stand still during her acceptance speech for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.
The writer and star of acclaimed drama I May Destroy You turned her words towards the public audience, not the suited execs and diamond embellished actors, a choice she has spent her whole career honouring.
"Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn't comfortable," Michaela told the audience.
"I dare you … Visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success. Do not be afraid to disappear—from it, from us—for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence."
"I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault."
Writer and actor Michaela on the 2021 Emmy's red carpet. Getty
Not only is Michaela the first Black woman to win the coveted award, but her win is a victory for art that empowers survivors and tells their story with nuance and understanding. I May Destroy You unveils that although healing never really ends, there is a way to find a unique catharsis to help ease the burden.
The series follows Arabella, a London writer, who is sexually assaulted on a night out with friends and how in the aftermath of the harrowing event she processes what happened. Michaela wrote the limited series after she was assaulted while working on her first show, Chewing Gum.
Michaela has also won a BAFTA for I May Destroy You. Getty
Speaking with NPR, the 33-year-old reflected on realising how her work deeply affected people who had experienced sexual assault and why she wanted to explore the conversation in the way she did.
"I realised that many people had some sort of experience that was connected to mine," she told the publication in 2020. "There were so many different ways to explore consent and how it affects us today. What better place for a story than one that I felt many people could find an identification in?"
And the show does just that. It doesn't shy away from the ugliness of healing and the imperfect ways people attempt to cope with their journey. It digs deep into how sexual assault can be subtle, less clear alongside the violent and grotesque acts depicted in the show, opening up conversations on stealthing, gaslighting and what consent really is.
WATCH BELOW: I May Destroy You trailer. Post continues after video...
Whilst I May Destroy You is not an easy watch, Chief Executive Officer of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, Hayley Foster, tells Now To Love that shows like Michaela's have a significant impact.
"Using entertainment to unpack this stuff and make it accessible to the mainstream, how impactful that has been for increasing the understanding," says Hayley.
"There is not a lot of this being depicted in our shows that we watch yet, it's only really starting to happen, and I think it's more so being kicked off in places like the UK or the US; it definitely has a massive impact.
Hayley adds: "When we are trying to raise awareness, whether it be family and domestic violence, cohesive controlling behaviours, or sexual violence, like the grooming kind of behaviours accompanying that, I think those other forms of media are really impactful."
Hayley also emphasises that more shows like I May Destroy You emerging, there will be a higher demand for specialist services, which have already seen a 21 per cent increase.
Women holding signs at the March 4 Justice protests. Instagram
Here in Australia, the country's most powerful figures have shown that the safety of women and sexual assault survivors is not a priority.
In March this year, tens of thousands of protesters united to speak out against sexism and gendered violence, with many brave individuals stepping forward to share their stories.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made headlines when he confessed he only understood the severity of allegations made after speaking with his wife who told him to think of the matter "as a father".
What's more, this month the government voted against implementing 49 of the 55 recommendations cited in the Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report, also known as the Respect@Work Report. The landmark sexual harassment and discrimination in workplace reforms were meant to be monumental.
Michaela's powerful performance is a must watch. Instagram
The title of Michaela's show, I May Destroy You, sounds like a threat initially, but every time the opening credits play and the 'You' flickers away, it shifts from intimidating to vulnerable.
Although Australian women and sexual assault survivors have yet to receive their deserved justice through appropriate policy reforms and law changes, we can turn to the power of art for some solace and company through our path to healing.
If you or someone you know needs help you can call 1800 Respect at 1800 737 732 or Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia at 1800 424 017.
Sign up to BINGE HERE, so you can watch the masterpiece I May Destroy You.