Michaela Coel is such an amazing creative force. She’s completely unapologetic and tells it like it is. Her portrayal of sexual assault in I May Destroy You is no different. The main character, Arabella, is a young Black woman who is struggling to finish her novel when she is date-raped on a night out. The moment when Arabella fully grasps that she has been assaulted is soul-destroying to watch, but it is incredible to witness how she navigates life while dealing with her trauma. She learns to embrace her pain and use it to build other victims of assault up.
The entire cast does an incredible job at portraying how victims of sexual assault cope in different ways. Some go off the rails, some live in denial, and many do not speak up about their experiences until much later. Coel’s ability to portray Arabella with such raw emotion highlights how distressing and painful surviving such an experience is. The series exhibits how a traumatic sexual assault takes hold of you and has a relentless grasp upon your life, how trauma suffocates you, and the title is so apt. I felt broken once I had finished this series.
Arabella has the agency to decide how she reacts to each of her assaults. This show is tough and triggering. It makes my throat feel tight. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but also brilliant because of how eye-opening it is. As a society, we rarely talk about our sexual experiences, so to confront sexual assault in such a raw way is very new and fresh.
Aside from the series’ portrayal of sexual assault, it hits the nail on the head through its depiction of being a struggling creative in London. Terry and Arabella are such lively characters, but society whittles down their passion and diminishes their drive. The audience is provided with a refreshing insight into the oppression inflicted upon young Black women. The perfect example of this is Terry’s audition, where the interviewers ask ignorant and invasive questions about her hair. It is clear that the questions asked in the room were not thought through. Terry’s facial expression shows the audience how uncomfortable and awkward this situation it is, while also shedding light on how common these experiences are. She’s hurt and fed up. This message is also shown in Arabella’s interaction with her publishing agency. She is so elated when she meets the head of the publishing agency, Susie, and sees she is also Black.
I urge everyone to watch I May Destroy You if you have not already, and also listen to the podcast ‘Obsessed with…’ because listening enabled me to educate myself about the experiences of young Black creatives in the UK, but it also highlighted what I had missed while watching.