I May Destroy You: Redefining the Sexual Assault Narrative
Image Courtesy of Variety
By Sarah Louise-Pinfold
Note: The following article contains discussion of sexual assault that some readers may find upsetting
Michaela Coel’s new devastating drama, I May Destroy You, follows Arabella Essiedu (Coel), a young black woman navigating life as a millennial in London. She is a rambunctious, pink-haired, coke-snorting Twitter celebrity-turned-novelist who is struggling to follow up on her first bestselling novel. The pilot episode sees Arabella’s “short” sabbatical from finishing the draft of her second book turn into an all-night frenzy at a local bar with friends, something I found both extremely relatable and comedic.
As she parties, stumbles out of the bar in a heavily drug and booze induced state, and finishes her draft, I found myself increasingly engulfed in Arabella’s strength of character and puzzling over how the show I was watching would reconcile with such a hefty topic as sexual assault and consent. It’s only as the episode progresses, with Arabella waking up the next day mystified over her wounded head and a smashed phone, that the reality of what had originally seemed comic hit me like a ton of bricks.
I May Destroy You deals with sexual assault in a way that I’ve never seen on television before, both nuanced and unique. I found the tension in certain scenes overpowering, such as witnessing the awkwardness when Arabella hands in her draft completely unaware of what she has written, and oblivious to the fact that the wound on her head is beginning to bleed. Coel creates a series that deals with trauma in a refreshing and realistic way. Arabella is not left defeated by her violation, but instead continues to be a loud, funny and often rash personality who still laughs with her friends and has sex when she wants to.
The show also contains a refreshing and long-overdue portrayal of modern relationships. Although we follow Arabella and her trauma, her friends Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia) must deal with their own experiences of sexual assault. Kwame’s storyline in particular address how the public sphere has failed to give voice to Black men who have experienced rape, especially those who happen to be queer.
Specific moments combine horror with clarity, comedy with drama and provide a viewing experience laden with juxtaposing emotions. Coel created a series which is frank in its portrayal of life after sexual assault. It does not have a singular effect on the psyche: it’s confusing, unpredictable and highly subjective. But most importantly of all, I May Destroy You reminds viewers of how rape culture lies on a spectrum, and that everyone’s experience of sexual assault should be treated as equally important.
I May Destroy You is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.