I May Destroy You is a 12-episode British-based television series that centres around Arabella “Bella” (Michaela Coel), a novelist and millennial influencer. Arabella is faced with the dreaded writer’s block and attempts to clear her head with a night out. The morning after, she struggles to recall the events of the previous evening but manages to piece them together with the help of her friends Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia). While connecting the dots, Arabella learns the shocking truth: she has been a victim of sexual assault. The series tackles her life after that moment as Bella battles to make sense of it, and pushes back against having it take over her whole identity, to the point of denial and dysfunction.

#MeToo

Michaela, who also wrote and directed the series, reveals where she got her inspiration from to colour in the scenes: her own life (the attack on Arabella mirrors what happened to Michaela while she was working on her breaking-through comedy series, the brilliant Chewing Gum)… and then the lives of her friends and all the women in her circle who had stories of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. “Once my friends knew I was writing a show, they began to share their experiences with me. And I began to realise that sexual assault was something so broad and something that so many people could identify with – which in one way is heart-breaking. This story is something that I want the audience to resonate with as much as the individuals who gave me their stories.”

Through her own story and her friends’ stories, a truth emerged that became the foundation from I May Destroy You: the entire process – from figuring out what happened, to trying to work out what to do about it, and how to carry on with your life – can feel strangely absurd while life just keeps on happening around you. Horror and humour can happen at the same time, in and to the same person.

Part of what makes I May Destroy You so compelling is Michaela’s understanding of how our lives are lived on social media, how we use it to tell our stories, our way, and how it can be used against us when people use it to play detective. Arabella is an influencer and has the option to use her voice for many causes, but she never set out to be the face of a movement. “When you are an influencer or somebody with a lot of followers, people online like you, but they don't actually know you. They’ve decided you are a particular kind of person and they choose to like it. You can take on so much of that praise that you flatten yourself and begin to know the version that they know, which is not the fullness of you. It's this version the virtual world creates,” adds Michaela.

Trigger warnings

There are no graphic sexual assault scenes played out onscreen. I May Destroy You explores the question of sexual consent, trauma, Black solidarity and discomfort through a novelist’s eyes. But Michaela respects that, depending where you are in processing assault, this could still be a difficult show to watch. According to Michaela, “I definitely now understand that people may need trigger warnings even when there is no sexual content. With the first episode, because Arabella isn't in the flashback, we didn't think it would need a trigger warning. But I had a couple of texts from friends like, ‘Why wasn't there a trigger warning?’ For content like this, even when it isn't sexual, or we don't really see anything violent occurring to somebody, people may need a trigger warning. That's understandable. I think it's beyond sexual assault. There are difficult themes in the show.” As Michaela reiterates, “I think sometimes just having good intentions can cause catastrophic consequences. So I'm very careful. I'm very mindful.” However, the difficult themes in the show are portrayed in a digestible format and often pull in humorous elements.

Watch I May Destroy You S1 from Wednesday, 26 August on 1Magic DStv 2013) at 21:30

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