When Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement burst into the public consciousness in 2017 (after the founder had shouted it from the rooftops since 2006), male Hollywood was shooketh. If you’re a woman, femme or non-binary, the nascent misogyny that runs rampant in the entertainment industry is unsurprising. Many of the aforementioned people go with the flow in order to work and keep working.
Michaela Coel-actor and executive producer of the highly popular Chewing Gum burst through the issue of consent with her latest offering, I May Destroy You. Following Coel’s character Arabella, the series starts with a night out for Bella and her friends and the next day is a blank for her. She has a bleeding head wound, cracked cell phone, and a giant, gaping maw of no memory.
Working her way backwards, Bella talks with her friend Simon…who lies like a rug regarding how he left her. The issue with all of her friends is that they seem to think a drunk and high person is cognizant to make it home. This is never more apparent when in Italy (flashback to several months prior), Bella and bff Terry do multiple recreational drugs and head out for a night of dancing (and more drugs). With Bella wasted and Terry bored, the latter just leaves an incapacitated Bella at a club. Terry ends her early morning hooking up with two random Italian guys (who consented). Meanwhile, her so-called bff is left to find for herself: drunk, high, and totally lost in an unfamiliar city.
Bella is assisted by-of all things-the dealer that hooked her and Terry up with the pills and blow. Biagio is an interesting guy: he deals but his mother OD’d and he’s ashamed of what he does. He escorts Bella home without complaint. His only ehhhh moment is when Bella suggests they engage in some sexy times. He’s a bit too eager (in my opinion) as Bella was seriously out of it (although now sobered up). The almost menstruation intercourse that follows was stomach-churning when Biagio plays with a blood clot Bella passes onto a towel (*cue barf sounds*).
As bits and pieces of Bella’s night out with Simon, his wife Kat, and Simon’s cousin from the US, come back to her, there is a recurring memory: a man looming over her in a bathroom stall, thrusting repeatedly. As she comes to terms with the fact that this isn’t a false memory or hallucination, Bella reports the assault to the local police. Her life-which revolved around her writing, getting high, and partying-changes significantly. She tries to focus more on her work but finds herself distracted and unmotivated. With the assistance of an editor named Zain, she attempts to get her mojo back. There’s a vibe between Bella and Zain and when they take it to the bedroom, it almost feels like a sort of growth.
Dear reader, it most certainly was not.
Michaela Coel isn’t here to make us comfortable, to make us complacent nor to placate the viewer. In a total lack of consent and taking away Bella’s personal autonomy, Zain removes his condom in the middle of their encounter. It is a complete violation and another assault that Bella must deal with emotionally.
If you thought that misogyny and consent (a term that is specifically anti-Black misogyny toward Black women, coined by Moya Bailey and Trudy of Gradient Lair) were the only issues I May Destroy You would cover, you’d be wrong. In episode 4, Bella’s friend Kwame endures his own assault, at the hands of a tinder hookup.
The point the series repeatedly hammers home is that there is no perfect victim. That everyone who goes through the horridness of sexual assault deserves to be heard, deserves to be seen and deserves restoration. Kudos to Michaela Coel for giving the people a series that delves deep into the question of why people matter.
Binge the first 5 episodes of I May Destroy You on HBO Max or HBO on demand. Catch live episodes on Mondays at 6PM.