Acclaimed drama about date rape

Michaela Coel in a scene from I May Destroy You, now on DStv and Showmax. The acclaimed series about date rape debuted in the UK in June.

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BY BILLY SUTER

AN ACCLAIMED, 12-part British drama series centred on date rape and labelled as “the drama of the year so far” by the UK’s Guardian, is now available on the Showmax streaming channel.

It is I May Destroy You, with new episodes premiering at 10.30pm every Wednesday on Showmax, after they air on DStv’s 1Magic. All 12 episodes will be available to binge on Showmax from November 11.

Written, produced, directed by and starring BAFTA-winner Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum, Black Earth Rising), I May Destroy You debuted in the UK in June this year.

“The most ‘2020’ show of 2020,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter, naming  the series among the “10 Best TV Shows of 2020 So Far”, while Vanity Fair labelled I May Destroy You as “the undisputed show of the summer”.

Coel appears in the series as Arabella, a carefree, self-assured Londoner with a burgeoning writing career, a group of great friends and a boyfriend in Italy. But when her drink is spiked with a date-rape drug, she must question and rebuild every element of her life.

I May Destroy You was sparked by its creator’s own experience with sexual assault, according to a Showmax spokesman.

“In 2016, while hammering out a deadline on the script for season two of Chewing Gum, Michaela took a break and met up with a friend for a drink. Her next clear memory is of ‘coming to’ at her desk, writing in a fugue state. It wasn’t until she discovered her phone was smashed and she began having flashbacks that she started piecing together the events of the night and learned that her drink had been spiked with a date-rape drug.”

“Through my personal story, I realised how common consent being stolen from you was,” Coel has said. “From pretty early on, I instinctively wanted to document it so one day I’ll be able to look back and try to forge some meaning, so it isn’t just a scary blob of senseless crime.”

I May Destroy You is the result of that documenting process and creating the show has been a healing experience, she added.

“I had therapy and I still check in with my therapist now, but writing this was incredibly cathartic. What began as my trauma became a show that is largely fictional and largely inspired by real people’s stories. Mastering it, and trying to develop a sense of understanding of how to evolve and grow and move forward, it’s directly taught me and woken me up. It’s been remarkable.”

Coel was struck by how often “it is so un-dealt with. We leave it inside of us and we allow it to manifest and flare up in ways that we aren’t able to predict because we ignore it. It just felt like there was a lot of unresolved pain,” she said.

“There is something that goes on in our brains when we begin to become aware that we’ve been taken advantage of, and that point is one I’m constantly exploring through the series.”

As part of her research, Coel spoke to scientists about memory, drug-facilitated sexual assault and post-traumatic stress disorder. She also consulted her own stepmother, who works at a sexual assault referral unit in London. Most importantly, she spoke to others who had been through similar trauma.

“When you are a survivor or a victim or whatever you want to call it, you can hold onto the anger – really understandable anger, that you have a right to feel – but it’s just about whether it’s serving you and whether you can sleep at night and have a peaceful life,” Coel said. “It’s not about rapists, it’s about the people who have had these experiences, and how do you go towards sleeping better at night.

“Arabella is more powerful than her trauma, but everybody has that power in them,” Cole believes. “If I could convey to people watching that they’re not alone, and they should be kind to themselves, that’d be a dream come true.”

I May Destroy You, which also stars Nigerian actress Weruche Opia (Top Boy, When Love Happens) and Paapa Essiedu (PressGangs of London), is fearless, frank and authentic in its exploration of sexual consent in contemporary life.

Thanks to Coel’s own secret weapon – humour – it’s also unexpectedly funny. “I use laughter to disassociate from something harrowing, or to get closer to it,” the star explained.

The series premiered overseas on June 7 this year, missing the cut-off for eligibility for this year’s Emmy Awards by a week, but has already won the love of both critics, who’ve given it a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and fans, who took to Twitter in droves following the BBC finale.

Coel took I May Destroy You through 191 drafts before she was happy with the script, then turned down Netflix’s $1million offer for I May Destroy You because she refused to surrender her copyright, waiting until BBC’s Channel 4 and HBO offered her the full package, rights included, to get her show to air.

Coel was recently named one of Vogue’s 25 Women Shaping 2020, with the publication calling I May Destroy You a “TV revelation” and Michaela herself “that rarest of things: a truly original creative force.”

I May Destroy You is at once brave and delicate, untangling the trauma of sexual assault with dark humour and moments of deep discomfort, all held together on the strength of Michaela Coel’s undeniable talent,” says Rotten Tomatoes’ critics consensus.

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QsbratLh2Iw


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