As the creator of I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel received a $1 million offer from Netflix for the miniseries; it was a deal which she now says she turned down due to a “lack of transparency” and “exploitation.” The semi-autobiographical show, which is about the emotional fallout that occurs after experiencing sexual assault, later found its home with BBC and HBO.
In an interview with Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, the host asks Coel: “You did turn down a million dollars from Netflix for I May Destroy You because you weren’t allowed to own the copyright and you kept asking questions… do you think you were judged because you were a woman?”
“I don’t remember feeling like people found me difficult, I remember feeling like people found me disturbed,” Coel replies. “It was like, ‘She’s a crazy woman…,’ to the point that I started to think I was crazy or unnecessarily paranoid.
“It’s hard to say to people trust your gut or instinct… but that’s what I did in that situation, I’m glad I did because in the end I wasn’t a crazy woman who was acting wild and disturbed and unhinged, I was right to observe the industry and observe there was a lack of transparency because there was an exploitation occurring,” Coel continues.
The auteur’s breakthrough began in 2015 when she created the raunchy comedy Chewing Gum, inspired by a play she wrote titled Chewing Gum Dreams. After the series ended in 2017, she had a small role in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and appeared in a couple episodes of Netflix’s Black Mirror. She went on to star in the Netflix original musical, Been So Long (2018). It’s obvious the Netflix higher ups were eyeing the screenwriter and actor, because in the same year she starred in Netflix original series Black Earth Rising alongside John Goodman. However, she only learned about their copyright clause after some persistent questioning on her part. “If I didn’t press on… I wouldn’t have got to that truth and I wouldn’t have ended up saying no to being exploited and having the space to say yes to employers who were not exploiting me, who were willing to collaborate with me and listen to me and treat me as an equal,” Coel says.
Once Coel decided to take her talents elsewhere, she produced, co-directed, and starred in I May Destroy You for BBC/HBO. The series went on to win two BAFTAs and receive nine Emmy nominations this year. While Coel has made it clear there will not be another season of IMDY, she is currently working on another show for BBC which may connect back to the series in some way. She will also star in the forthcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.