When Michaela Coel rocketed into the limelight with her hit series Chewing Gum in 2015, critics and viewers alike were excited about what was next in her path to her success. But the media multi-hyphenate has always known that she was destined for greatness — and the knowledge of her star power influences her every move in Hollywood.
A new Vulture profile examines the career trajectory of the British star, revealing that there's literally no one who believes in her more than she does. After the rave reviews of Chewing Gum, a raunchy sex-positive comedy about a young woman trying to navigate a world of dating and sex, the 32-year-old sought out projects that allowed her to go as far as she needed to on her own terms. After the second season of the hilarious series wrapped on Netflix, she pursued other roles in starring productions like Been So Long, Black Earth Rising, and Black Mirror.
But I May Destroy You marks Coel's real first time in the driver's seat. A show entirely of her own making — she is its showrunner, director, star, and writer — the HBO-BBC collaboration peels back the layers of a drunken night to reveal the devastating and far-reaching consequences of sexual assault connected to abuse that Coel herself suffered. And though the narrative is fully her own from start to beginning, the television powers that be almost kept the actress from full ownership of the production. Almost.
Journalist E. Alex Jung reveals that Netflix, not HBO, had almost housed the hit series. In the spring of 2017, Coel was this close to signing a million dollar deal with the streaming company but changed her mind after making a startling discovery: she wouldn't be entitled to any percentage of the copyright. Further negotiations revealed the platform's reluctance to grant the creator even a fraction of ownership over the show.
"There was just silence on the phone,” she recalled of the disturbing conversation with Netflix. “‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal.’ I said, ‘If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have 5 percent of my rights.'"
The streaming giant didn't budge even after she whittled down the percentage to a tiny 0.5%, so she set off to pitch the show elsewhere. Mere months after curving Netflix (and the agency that encouraged her to take the deal), Coel found a new home for I May Destroy You; BBC (and later HBO) happily signed the dotted line, handing her full reign over the creative as well as the rights to the show.
"I remember thinking, I’ve been going down rabbit holes in my head, like people thinking I’m paranoid, I’m acting sketchy, I’m killing off all my agents,” Coel shared. “I finally realized — I’m not crazy. This is crazy.”
The BBC-HBO deal resulted in something beautiful, a testament to one Black woman's dedication to being authentic to herself and her experience. I May Destroy You is a deeply personal story in every way, its very inception a form of therapy for its star and showrunner, but it's also the manifestation of Coel's belief in herself. Even before the series came to life, she knew it deserved far more than what the television industry would offer. So she asked for more.