I May Destroy You, a powerful and lightly comical drama, written and directed by Michaela Coel, explores questions around “race”, rape, consent, sexuality, trauma and friendship.
Coel’s work highlights the nuances between rape and consent whilst simultaneously exploring what millennial friendships look like through Arabella, and her relationship with Terry and Kwame.
The drama is riddled with many uncomfortable scenes, dramatic moments and unnerving flashbacks. Throughout, viewers may be compelled to favour particular characters over others but as Coel states, there are no “good” or “bad” characters in the show because even your favourite character is problematic and lacks accountability.
I May Destroy You has received major praise and favourable reviews – finally a black woman telling the story of a black woman and owning the narrative. Why has this taken so long? The writing is gritty and uncomfortable, and the actors commit to their characters and the stories being told. But more importantly, I May Destroy You is more than a 12 episode drama on BBC iplayer. It is a sharp reminder and visual representation of our own uncomfortable experiences with sex, consent and trauma – of not knowing whether you were comfortable with the situation you were in or the experience you had.
For many, including myself, we see ourselves, our friends, our “friends from uni”, our work colleagues, that girl/guy from the year above/below in the many characters and situations we are confronted with in IMDY.
Watching, I thought back to a + I believe my drink was spiked on holiday in Miami and I ended up in the back of an American ambulance. I also thought back to time when a guy grabbed my waist to chat me up and when I told him he didn’t need to touch me to talk, he told me I was ugly anyway. I also remembered a time when a guy tried to force me to have sex with him. He said if I wasn’t sleeping with other people, I should want to have sex with him (because women are obviously sexually insatiable). I declined, he continued and so, I physically defended myself. He then proceeded to tell me that my behaviour was problematic and refused to leave.
He stayed the night. Without my consent.
Like Arabella, many of us have had to come to terms with our own trauma. Like Kwame, some of us may have inflicted traumatic experiences onto others. Like Terry, some of us may feel guilty for the traumas of others. Like Simon, some of us lack accountability.
But there are no “good” or “bad” characters.
What is clear, is that I May Destroy You confronts us with uncomfortable truths and the often harsh realities of sex, consent, trauma and relationships. It has opened up a dialogue around what constitutes sexual assault and questioned the problematic sexual behaviours, such as touching a woman’s waist (without consent) to gesture movement, that have been normalised in society. Questions of sex and consent are imbedded in, and inherently part of, in the London experience. Everyone has a story of sexual trauma to tell, be it theirs, or someone else’s. And that’s why I May Destroy You is a masterpiece. Because every character resonates with someone.
So far from feeling destroyed, Michaela Coel has reminded me that the only person who has power over me is myself. I am the victim in my story, if I choose to be. Or maybe I want to be a survivor, who knows? The point is, I can shape my own narrative.