Michaela Coel loves dancing at night in the park: ‘You can’t live in fear’

I have loved Michaela Coel’s work since Chewing Gum. I also thoroughly enjoyed her HBO show I May Destroy and was hoping for another season, but it’s probably not happening. After it was announced that Michaela had signed on to an unspecified role in Marvel’s Black Panther sequel I have been completely obsessed with her interviews. I want to know more about Michaela and her process. The woman is a genius. Michaela covers Elle UK this month and she really opens up in the interview. Michaela talks about how she confronted racism on the set of Chewing Gum, how she battled the commandeering of her intellectual property (Chewing Gum) by executives, and how, as a bonafide misfit, she likes dancing in the park at night. Below are a few more highlights from Elle UK:

We are meeting today to talk about her debut book, aptly titled Misfits: A Personal Manifesto. To call it a manifesto, however, would be to underplay both the delicacy and nuance of Coel’s writing. It is warm and funny and all the things you’d expect from a woman who wrote Channel 4’s award-winning series Chewing Gum, as well as 2020’s culture-defining hit, I May Destroy You. (And let’s not forget lines such as: ‘All I’ve done here is eat four-cheese pizza and a d*ck.’) The book charts her life, her friends, growing up in east London, as well as her dramatic James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture given at the Edinburgh TV Festival in 2018. For those unfamiliar with the lecture, it is a big deal in Coel’s world: an hour-long speech typically undertaken by industry veterans such as Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and a pre-scandal Kevin Spacey.

She had three months in which to write the keynote lecture, but, in her standard style, crammed it into two weeks, writing alone in a colleague’s house in Somerset. There, in the dark hours, she did what she does best: poured herself and her experiences into words…

She explained how, on the Chewing Gum set, she found all the Black actors in one trailer, while the white actor had their own. She described it as looking like ‘a fackin’ slave ship’, to which a producer declared: ‘I’m not racist!’ ‘I know you ain’t racist, that’s what makes this all so fackin’ bizarre,’ Coel countered. Needless to say, more trailers were quickly procured.

She also did something else at the MacTaggart lecture: she revealed that, while penning the second series of Chewing Gum, she was sexually assaulted after having her drink spiked during a break from writing. It was a shocking revelation, topped only by the further admission that, after the incident, she carried on writing for fear of not delivering her work on time.

‘I am a Black woman and that will always be true,’ she says. ‘And, for me, there is nothing like going to a different country where nobody knows me and experiencing the way security guards follow me around the pharmacy or the grocery shop. The dirty looks I receive, the fact that cars don’t want to stop on a zebra crossing. All these things reinstall that I am a Black woman. As long as these issues are still happening, I am happy to speak, because I could be deluded and forget that that’s a part of me. I’m really lucky that there are places where I’m not known and so it allows me to still experience it.’

I ask her what’s the weirdest thing she does. And that’s when she goes into detail about the dancing. In lockdown, she was running every day. One day she saw a man dancing in the park alone. She was overwhelmed by the beauty of what he was doing. ‘You’re beautiful!’ she shouted, as she ran past him. A short while later they bumped into one another. They exchanged numbers. On Coel’s instruction, they decided to dance together, this time in the dead of night. So that’s what they did. Headphones on. Making shapes under the stars.

[From Elle UK]

Somehow I missed the memo that I May Destroy you was based on a real event in Michaela’s life [trigger warning] in which she was drugged and sexually assaulted while out with friends. That makes my heart hurt even more when I recall how raw her performance was in that show. It now makes a lot of sense that it was cathartic for her. I love how she calls people out on their sh*t compassionately. My favorite part of this interview is when Michaela talks about the man living in a halfway house that she met and invited to her home. They showed their wounds to each other, his being a bullet hole in his leg. I must be a bonafide misfit because I would totally put in my earphones and dance under the moon in a park. The thought just gives me tingles. I love how Michaela seems to grab every opportunity to just live and connect to others. I appreciated that she left a spiritual practice because she didn’t agree with its stance on the LGBTQIA+ community. That takes guts. I cannot wait to see what Michaela does in the future. I feel everything she touches turns to gold. And I really hope that she will be playing the role of Madam Slay in Black Panther. I really feel she would, um, slay that role.

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21 Responses to “Michaela Coel loves dancing at night in the park: ‘You can’t live in fear’”

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  1. Jane says:

    Chewing Gum was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. It was genius.

    This was a very interesting article. Thank you for covering it!

  2. Sally says:

    She’s a queen, I enjoyed Chewing Gum, but I May Destroy You is a masterpiece. Some of the dialogue hurt physically and it’s absolutely not bingeable, just too much perfection and pain to take in at once. I have a similar working style to hers, sadly though the things I produce in rushed panic aren’t even closely as good.

  3. SusanRagain says:

    Grace Jones look a like in that pic.
    Will need to check out her show.

    • Mia4s says:

      I was going to say! Getting major Grace Jones vibes from these pics. And that is 110% a compliment!

      • Petra says:

        Dam-mm she is beautiful! First time I saw her in Chewing Gum, I said If there was ever a Grace Jones bio-pic she need to get the role.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        Yes, she is certainly channeling Grace Jones in the pictures, who is still breathtaking today as she was yesterday!

        I get such great recommendations from you guys regarding shows, as I just added her HBO hit on my watchlist. All my daughter watches is horror, which I like but not only horror like her. And the more horror the better. I am sick so I enjoy upbeat and comedy.

        As for her ability to cast people into their roles so well, she must have an ability to channel their spirit to cast them. It takes a unique talent to cast certain people into the right roles. So many shows/movies have been disastrous given that they were not close to being able to capture their respective roles whereas she sounds very in tune to instincts.

  4. tempest prognosticator says:

    I found the part where she danced with the guy in the park really moving. It made me a little misty. Sometimes there is beauty in humanity.

  5. Doodle says:

    I may destroy you was amazing. I also left my church community when a guest minister gave a sermon demonizing the gay community. That’s the last time I sat through a service. I was 17 and appalled.

  6. Paperclip says:

    G*d I love her.

  7. A says:

    People asking for a second season, didnt understand the first one.

  8. kgeo says:

    I may destroy you was wonderful and so hard to watch. It was absolute perfection. I don’t know how one person can capture the complexities of so many different experiences surround sexual assault, but she did it wonderfully without minimizing any one type. The tenderness that she acted out towards her rapist in one of her alternative endings was the one that stuck out to me.
    I’ve felt that way before. It’s not something that’s easy to talk about because you don’t want to humanize your assaulter. The actors that played her friends were great too. It was just a great show. I may have my children watch it when they’re older.

  9. FeatherDuk says:

    Ummm, she doesn’t live in the USA does she? Because here you’ll get shot for being a kid in a park playing with toys.

  10. Petra says:

    I wish I have the nerve to watch “I May Destroy You”. I fear that it may actually destroy me.

    She is uber talented with an incredible softness in how she’s living her life. If I was one to create a vision board, she’ll be on it as a celebrity I want as a real life best friend.

    • Calypso says:

      It very well might destroy you, I can’t lie, but it will also put you back together. Maybe not exactly as you were, but … different. Stronger.

      If you’re ever ready, the show will be there for you.

    • Sof says:

      Came to say the same thing. Maybe I’ll gather the courage to watch it some day.

  11. lucy2 says:

    I May Destroy You was one of the best pieces of television I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how she managed to do it, considering the subject matter and her real life assault, but I guess that’s how she worked through it. She is an incredibly talented woman, and also incredibly beautiful. You cannot take your eyes off her when she’s on screen.

  12. Chimney says:

    I love her and her new book is already on my TBR list. Everything she does is golden!

  13. Jo says:

    She’s amazing and so strong. I’m in awe of her creative talent. I have yet to finish IMDY. I loved it but it’s hard for me to watch. So I take it slow.
    Beside the point and unimportant, but she’s sooo beautiful, as if she were carved out of marble.

  14. K says:

    I loved Chewing Gum go Micaela!! She is a work of art

  15. Meg says:

    Women are victim blamed for being abused yet she doesnt seem to let that stop her from connecting with people, i love that.
    My instinct when i hear about abuse harassment etc. Is ‘how can i keep myself safe to prevent that from happening?’ Like im falling for the th victim blaming myself

  16. Roo says:

    Her inner beauty and strength is reflected in her outer beauty and strength. I am excited to see her continue to grow and flourish.