I May Destroy You (2020)
Written & Directed by Michaela Coel
I had a hard time finishing this series. It’s a heartbreaking mini-series written by Michaela Coel, who should’ve gotten all the praise but was snubbed for any Emmys when it was released in 2020.
The title of the show questions who it is that Arabella (Michaela Cole) might destroy. Will she destroy her friends? Her enemies? Her career? Herself?
There’s something so dark here. Obscurity swirls around the storyline that is raw and vulnerable. If you’re a fan of Michaela’s prior work, Chewing Gum, there is a stark contrast to it. Neon lights, levels of trauma that lay on top of the other. Arabella is utterly human. Sharp-witted, funny, and messy.
I May Destroy You follows the storyline of a young writer who is struggling with writing a draft for her second book. On a night out with friends, she’s drugged and sexually assaulted. Confused over the details, she thinks it’s all false until it becomes clear that she has been violated.
It is not an easy watch. Michaela does us the benefit of adding comedy into the mix, much like adding sugar into medicine to make it palatable for your senses. However, there is no shying away from the subject of being who she is. Arabella goes through stages of grief, but she is not the perfect victim that the media tends to want to portray. Her friends aren’t perfect. The plastic wrapping that could’ve shielded them has been removed, and we are allowed to witness all of their imperfections.
It goes through different categories of what consent is in this confusing world. After being drugged, Arabella (Michaela Coel) also finds out that it’s considered rape if your partner removes their condom without consent, which happens to her later on as she tries to regain her strength. She’sShe’s left navigating through unknown waters, asking herself if there’s any way to stop herself from becoming a victim. Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), one of Arabella’s best friends, experiences being violated and then questioned how he was a victim if he had consensual sex with the person and wasn’t penetrated. It exposes how sexual assault police units can be not only racist but homophobic and, as a result of thinking, perhaps engaging with a straight woman only to wound her along the way.
There are different stories intertwined with each other, all connected to Arabella. Her best friend Terry (Weruche Opia) has a threesome that she believes was sporadic, only to deduct the two other men knew each other. It sparks distrust and anger. Theodora (Harriet Webb), a school acquaintance of Arabella and Terry, leads a support group for sex abuse survivors. How her story differs, not only having accused someone of rape after being thought of as a “slut”, but we later discover her mother made Theodora accuse her father of sexual abuse to keep full custody of her. Survivor of abuse are represented in many different faces throughout.
Steps are taken to show these characters closer to humans than just outlines. The black characters are unapologetically black. There’s ownership of it that Michaela swings around like an ax. Not only was she black and poor, but she’s a woman who has felt violated.
I May Destroy You got much acclaim, and for good reason. The last episode launches you into a spiral. It’s David Lynchian, somewhere between reality and a nightmare. It’s ultimately human, and it should be raved and championed for a reason. The pressure she feels to produce work all while she’s left vulnerable—disappointment on how people are or can be. The people you look up to that benefit from your pain. You’re ultimately left to handle it with who you trusted before or during it.
I hope Michaela Coel heals and continues to use her talents as she has in this.