This story includes mention of sexual assault.
I May Destroy You took home the awards for Best Mini-Series and Best Leading Actress, a well-deserved win based on Coel’s heartbreakingly raw depiction of the impact that sexual assault has on survivors. The plot saw the British actress star as a writer who is drugged and raped while out with friends. As her memories of the attack come flooding back, the aftermath of the violent experience has grave consequences on both the protagonist’s personal and professional life. It turns out that the BAFTA-winning storyline was very closely inspired by Coel’s own life; in 2018, she revealed that she had been raped around the time that Chewing Gum was still in production.
When she took the stage to accept her personal award, Coel took time to highlight the behind-the-scenes efforts that made reliving her own assault for I May Destroy You less painful and traumatizing. Thanks to the show’s intimacy coordinator, the actress was able to act out even the most painful scenes the scenes with dignity and grace.
“I want to dedicate this award to the director of intimacy, Ita O’Brien,” Coel began while clutching her award. “Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe for creating physical, emotional, and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power, without being exploited or abused in the process.”
“I know what it’s like to shoot without an intimacy director — the messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew, the internal devastation for the actor,” she continued onstage. “Your direction was essential to my show, and I believe essential for every production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”
The implementation of intimacy coordinators in Hollywood has been on the rise in recent years, the need for safer productions more evident as many professionals within the industry came forward with various stories of uncomfortable experiences with sexual harassment and even assault on set. Their role is to not only choreograph intimate (sexual or otherwise) scenes, but to ensure that the cast and crew feel safe and empowered while working.
In January 2020, the SAG-AFTRA announced a rollout of intimacy coordination protocol, starting with a comprehensive guide educating productions about the necessity and benefits of having an intimacy coordinator on the team. Last summer, Lena Waithe followed the entertainment union's footsteps by pledging that all of Hillman Grad Productions projects going forward will have an intimacy coordinator on call. (The plan was likely influenced by the alleged sexual misconduct that occurred on Showtime series The Chi that led to the exit of two of the show's biggest stars.)
As shows like I May Destroy You continue share important narratives of pain and abuse, it becomes more obvious that intimacy coordinators are a necessity that productions can only benefit from in the long run. The hope is that over time, more sets will implement programs and policies that emphasize the importance of consent during filming, lending to an environment that is productive and safer for everyone involved.