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I May Destroy You
Courtesy BBC

Michaela Coel dedicates her Emmy win to sexual assault survivors

The writer and actor won the coveted accolade for her drama series I May Destroy You, which fictionalises the story of her own rape

Michaela Coel won her first ever Emmy last night (September 19) for her phenomenal drama series, I May Destroy You, dedicating her win to “every single survivor of sexual assault”.

The hit 2020 show follows protagonist Arabella (played by Coel) as she attempts to piece together the night she was raped. The series is based on Coel’s own experience of sexual assault.

Accepting the award for Outstanding Writing in a Limited to Anthology Series, Coel – who’s the first Black woman to win the accolade – said: “Write the tale that scares you; that makes you feel uncertain; that isn’t comfortable. I dare you.” 

“In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves – and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success – do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence.”

Coel concluded: “I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault.”

This isn’t the first big award win for I May Destroy You. In June, Coel took home the BAFTA for Best Mini Series and Best Actress, thanking – during the acceptance speech for the latter – the show’s intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien, who’s also famously worked on the likes of Normal People and Sex Education.

“Thank you for your existence in our industry,” Coel said, “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.”

Coel’s Emmy win is even more special, in light of her February snub at the Golden Globes. When the nominees were announced, many were outraged that I May Destroy You didn’t feature, while Emily in Paris did. The latter’s writer even joined the chorus of criticism, expressing, in a Guardian op-ed, her “rage” at its exclusion.

Speaking about the series on Louis Theroux’s podcast in November, Coel said of writing about her own experience of sexual assault: “When you really look at the aftermath of dealing with these blurry thefts of consent, it can be really damaging. It can have quite subtle long-term effects. I wanted to explore that in the hope that I might also grow past or through some of the damage.”

Earlier this month, Coel released her debut book, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto, which sees the writer, actor, and director recount personal anecdotes from her life and work, as well as chart her journey to reclaim her creativity and power as a survivor.

In light of I May Destroy You’s Emmy win, look back at Dazed’s interview with the show’s Weruche Opia (who plays Terry) here, and read journalist Jason Okundaye’s op-ed about how Paapa Essiedu’s character Kwame honours the Black British gay male experience here.