I May Destroy You: the forgotten show of 2020

Programme Name: I May Destroy You - TX: 08/06/2020 - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Arabella (MICHAELA COEL) - (C) Val Productions - Photographer: Natalie Seery

By Alyx Johnstone

Content warning:

This article discusses sexual violence in a way that some people might find triggering. If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual abuse or sexual violence, see the resources at the bottom of this page.

Michaela Cole’s hit TV show ‘I May Destroy You’ first came onto our screens last summer at a time when everyone was desperately looking for something new to watch. Set over 12 episodes, the drama mini-series that had a predominantly black cast, aired on BBC and evoked both laughter and tears throughout its full duration as it delved into the world of millennial writer Arabella and followed her attempts to move forward with her life after being raped in a nightclub. It was met with great praise by critics and was described by the Guardian as ‘the best drama of the year’. This is why there was such outrage when the Golden Globe nominees for 2021 were announced and neither Michaela Cole nor her show were anywhere to be seen on the list.

The show dares to dive into the murky waters of consent and how it is not always the black and white issue of saying yes or no. One particularly disturbing scene shows the main character having consensual sex with a man, however during the act he removes the condom without her knowing and continues. Afterwards, when she realises what he has done she is outraged and tells him that it is sexual assault as she only consented to sex with a condom. He fails to understand the seriousness of what he has done and how this will impact her.  This sort of content being shown on the BBC is so important in many ways. At a time where statistics show that 1 in 10 women in Scotland have experienced rape, now more than ever we need the media to highlight women’s lived experiences through shows like this. Michaela Cole herself experienced an assault similar to her characters back in 2016. It was an act of bravery for her to use the trauma and pain she had gone through to tell a story which highlights this type of assault.

Deborah Copaken, a writer on the Netflix Hit TV show ‘Emily in Paris’, a show that featured a predominantly white cast, wrote a piece for the Guardian last month describing her rage at the lack of recognition ‘I May Destroy You’ has received. She even goes as far as condemning the nominations that her own show has received and recognises that the light fluff of ‘Emily in Paris’ does not deserve the global recognition that ‘I May Destroy You’ does. Having watched both shows myself it is clear that the two cannot be compared. ‘Emily in Paris’ is a shiny, Instagram filtered show where the streets of Paris look more like a Hollywood film set and the fashion is as eccentric as the French cliches are offensive. That doesn’t mean, however, that I did not enjoy it. On the contrary, I binged it in a few days and let myself escape into this fantasy world because that is what it fundamentally is… a fantasy. ‘I May Destroy You’ on the other hand is a timely social exposé of the ways in which consent can be blurred and the effects that these can have on a person. In keeping with observations from previous years, the Golden Globe nominees list appeared to be whitewashed, with films like ‘One Night in Miami’ and ‘Black Messiah’ also being snubbed from the Best Film category. These are both examples of critically acclaimed films with predominantly black casts that had been expected to be nominated. As well as this, there are currently no black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the board that decide the nominees and winners.

It is clear that even in 2021, race is still having an impact on who and what gets recognised at key award shows. If a woman delving into her own personal trauma and creating a unique and moving TV show which was met with such acclaim cannot even secure a nomination, then it appears that there is something much darker going on in the entertainment industry.

How to get help: 

Rape Crisis Scotland’s phone helpline is open 6pm – 12am every day of the week, on 08088 01 03 02. The helpline can also be contacted on 07537 410 027 by text.

Additionally, Rape Crisis Glasgow can be contacted on 08088 00 00 14, every day of the week between 11am and 2pm, as well as Monday to Thursday between 5.30pm and 7.30pm.