Michaela Coel has revealed that she was sexually assaulted during the writing of British comedy Chewing Gum and has outlined how production company behind the show dealt with the aftermath of the attack.
The multi-hyphenate opened up about the “life-changing” experience during her MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
She gave details of the assault and how producer Retort, which is owned by FremantleMedia, dealt with the issue as well as other sexual harassment she has faced in the past. She did not name the assaulter but stressed that she was not raped within the Retort offices or by anyone at the company.
“I was working overnight in the company’s offices; I had an episode due at 7am. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby. I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky. I had a flashback. It turned out I’d been sexually assaulted by strangers. The first people I called after the police, before my own family, were the producers.
“How do we operate in this family of television when there is in an emergency? Overnight, I saw them morph into an anxious team of employers and employees alike; teetering back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all. When there are police involved, and footage, of people carrying your sleeping writer into dangerous places, when cuts are found, when there’s blood…what is your job?
Coel, who has also starred in series such as Black Mirror and had a small role on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, said that after the incident, the production company did send her to a private clinic and funded her therapy until the end of the shoot.
The reveal comes hours after Coel’s latest writing project Jan 22nd, which explores the question of sexual consent in contemporary life, was unveiled by BBC Two. Set in London, the story, which is produced by Coel’s own indie Falkna Productions and Various Artists, centres on Arabella (Coel) whose raw and personal experience of consent sits at the heart of the story.
Coel added that this was not her only experience of sexual harassment since she entered the television business. “I won an award, for writing. At the after party, a London producer introduced himself to me. I said, ’oh yes, nice to meet you’. “Do you know how much I want to fuck you right now?” was his immediate choice of response. I turned from him and went home so quickly I left my plus one. He called, upset. Someone called him a [n-word]. It was the same man. Could my silence have encouraged this producer to push boundaries with women and black people further? This thought is uncomfortable, but I cannot block it out. I have to face it,” she said.
The Black Earth Rising star urged the television business to allow time to “make silence for yourself” as it’s a “noisy job”.
“Instead of standing here, wishing for the good old glory days, about the way life used to be before Mark Zuckerberg graduated, I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part I can, to help fix this house. What part will you play?”