“She’s there as a colleague, as a mate, and then she’s there jumping into the role of actor for a scene,” reflects Ita O’Brien, intimacy coordinator who worked with Michaela Coel on I May Destroy You. “And on days where she’s finished her scene she’s into her own clothes and bang, into co-director mode… And then, ‘oh sorry, I can’t have this conversation, I’ve got to go and have a production meeting’: into executive producer mode.”
This is only the briefest glimpse into what life was like for Michaela Coel during the shoot for I May Destroy You, the BBC drama which set a new precedent for how consent and sexual assault - moreover, just how lives in general - can be authentically portrayed on screen.
Soon after, when Coel appeared on the front page of New York Magazine captioned ‘Michaela The Destroyer,’ her small but robust international fanbase felt validated. I May Destroy You has seen Coel rise to a level of fame and prominence only those closest to her could have quietly predicted. Not that anyone would have listened.
“What’s brilliant about her is she’s calling the industry out: going ‘hold on a minute, you’re not really considering us,’” continues O’Brien of Coel. “I do feel it is groundbreaking. How Michaela writes, what she has written about, and also the fact that she’s a woman writer.
Take the scene in episode three of I May Destroy You (mild spoiler alert) where Coel’s character Arabella is hooking up with an Italian man named Biagio, who notices a blood clot in her period discharge during sex.
“The paraphernalia of a menstruation isn’t something that’s out there,” says O’Brien, who notes that half the population spend roughly half their lives engaged in a menstrual cycle, yet when has the reality of that been shown on TV before Coel?
“It’s so gratifying being part of something that is helping people have that awareness,” continues O’Brien. “Plus, when else have you seen a woman of colour with an Asian man?”
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