Michaela Coel opens up about exploitation and abuse in powerful BAFTA speech

·2-min read

Michaela Coel discussed “loss of respect”, exploitation and abuse of power in the entertainment industry during a powerful acceptance speech at the BAFTA awards.

Coel and her hit drama I May Destroy You took home two major wins at the BAFTA awards on Sunday (6 June). Coel took home the award for best leading actress, and her drama won best miniseries at the ceremony. The accolades came just weeks after Coel won writing and directing prizes at the BAFTA Craft Awards, which reward TV’s backstage talent.

Coel dedicated the best mini-series award win to the crew of I May Destroy You, who were the “unsung heroes who create everything you see, hear and feel”. When accepting her acting prize, Coel thanked the show’s intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien, who she said allowed people in the industry to “make work exploring the themes of consent” without “being exploited or abused in the process”.

“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,” Coel said.

Michaela Coel continued: “I know what it is like to shoot without an intimacy director. The messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew.

“The internal devastation for the actor. 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 12-part BBC series follows Arabella (Coel), a novelist who is drugged and raped while out with friends in London. The series has been widely heralded as one of the best TV series of 2020 by multiple critics. The LGBT+ community also applauded the show for its exploration of consent as one storyline depicts the sexual assault of Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a young gay Black man.

Essiedu was up for the best leading actor BAFTA on Sunday, but he was beaten out by Normal People‘s Paul Mescal.

O’Brien told the BBC in May that her role on I May Destroy You was to oversee all the “intimate scenes throughout the production”. She explained: “I ensure that at all times there is an open conversation regarding the intimate scenes, agreement and consent of touch, simulated sexual content and nudity, and clear choreography providing a physical structure for the intimate content.”

O’Brien added that the most important aspect of her work is “always open communication”.

“Through that open communication we have established the boundaries, we have taken care of the actors and everyone feels empowered,” O’Brien said. “The focus can then be on delivering the different nature of each scene and character and servicing the director’s vision.”

O’Brien said she was “invited to share the work” on I May Destroy You by the show’s directors Sam Miller and Michaela Coel.