Recently on television there was some prime time Black, dare one say it, BLM styled, drama. After the wonderful Patrick Robinson in the heart felt and rage inducing ‘Sitting In Limbo’ about Anthony Bryan and one man’s experience of the simply horrifying Windrush scandal, I then watched the breathtaking Michaela Coel in the debut of her ‘I May Destroy You’ which she writes, directs and stars in a so far terrifying, humorous, shocking and challenging new style in contemporary drama.
After the side splitting ‘Chewing Gum’ comedy series (which she also wrote and starred in) which made me ill with laughter, she went on to tackle a serious role in ‘Black Earth Rising’ which proved to us all she could really extend her acting range seemingly effortlessly and as if overnight we really sat up and noticed this extraordinarily beautiful young woman. This latest outing for her skills is challenging stuff mind and SPOILER ALERT looks like getting more serious as we delve deeper. ‘I May Destroy You’ continues on BBC (yes okay I grant you occasionally the Beeb get it right and this was all headed in the right direction for sure) each Monday and Tuesday and simultaneously the two episodes are released jointly on iPlayerThe harrowing truth is that the story here is based on autobiographical fact as I discovered only today and as reportedly happened towards the end of Michaela working on 'Chewing Gum' when she was date raped, sexually assaulted by someone who drugged and took advantage of her. I found this fact alone difficult to deal with [as I am sure she did and then some] but what does someone like this extraordinary woman do? Why she spends the next two and half years basing her next piece of writing upon those very acts! She is if nothing else extraordinarily tough!
It has resulted in one of the most unique works I have ever experienced, it is little short of a writing masterclass and in fairness to give her 12 episodes is brave and clever and the result is perplexing, fascinating and funny and at times overwhelmingly powerful. The shift in narrative perspectives is quite unique from week to week and double episode at a time and for this watcher an avid fan of Coel anyway, staggeringly shocking and powerful. I am trying not to give away too many spoiler alert aspects as again as a trend goes each week the next two episodes are shown on respective Monday and Tuesday nights alongside streaming on the BBC iPlayer.
There are episodes that shift and change gear without faltering. The dialogue of certain episodes alone is so clever as to be at once hypnotic and shocking. The casual approach to drug taking, to sexual encounters and the unflinching attention to detail. The millennial's approach to culture, black and otherwise, is extraordinary as it exposes its shallowness and at once the fashionability of the social media creative control and contemporary 'hip' culture, black, white, Asian or otherwise!
Is it rape if a man during sex with you, a female, removes his condom half way through? (It's even a 'thing' called 'stealthing' the things you learn these days from listen to Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4!) Forcing you to take the morning after pill against your will but because someone has had non-consensual sex in that way? The sex act was desired but not in that manner. The answer is 'yes' it is.
There are sub-plots that twist and turn and explore so called grey areas also. Is it rape between two men if you have had sex just prior to procuring a three way if the dominant male desires to 'go again' but you don't wish to? Again the answer is yes, yes it is!
Anybody sticking with the series is in for a mind jolting ride because SPOILER ALERT it set a new benchmark in drama for me uneasy shifts between theme and venue, drama and plot, the episode where she causally finds herself on holiday from much earlier out of sequence is a trip up technique and the dotting around in time a device here used to great affect but it’s not for the nervous (or squeamish where the female monthly cycle is concerned! (Yes men I’m talking to you!!) quite extraordinary, groundbreaking, a breathtaking exploration of consent, race and millennial life involving casual hook-ups, even more casual attitudes to drugs, blow, coke, MDMA, pills generically and of course the use of rohypnol by predators and the facts of life writ large in all their unflinching detail.
Last nights episode (6 The Alliance) concerned itself with a sudden flashback to school days where youngster's burgeoning sex and lies were treated as casually as the now former perpetrator of a sexual assault tells a lie (truth honesty and lies are returning motifs) who now runs a group for the victims of such that our character went to school with and the black pupils do their level best to take immediate revenge upon. It took a moment to work out exactly what was going on as many episodes have curiously and intentionally I reckon.
The shift in truth telling, what has happened what constitutes rape EXACTLY what is sexual assault if consent has formerly been given, is it different for men, is it different for gay men? are the mechanics different if you have taken drugs? Are the partial aspects different for women than men, for all of us!? All different takes are addressed and leave us thoughtful, occasionally drained of emotion and troubled but along the way we have been encouraged to laugh and find certain characters however shallow curiously endearing, we are falling in love with many and finding some intensely irritating.
Just as the more delicate and romantic 'Normal People' seduced us with the beautiful youngsters and became a benchmark for the lack of ability to talk about how you feel, 'I May Destroy You' takes it up a notch and explores how, and even if we can communicate after we have taken a raft of substances and lashings of alcohol, if one of them turns out to be rohypnol, if we cannot hardly speak and make sense to ourselves let alone anyone else including our closest friends. What exactly has happened here?
I for one am reeling with the dramatic twist and turns, it has challenged me and made me think, I am reeling with the contemporary aspect of a different world for this sad old white man. But boy has it made me sit up and take notice!
Tour de force doesn't quite cover it.
Chalk and Blade - I May Destroy You podcast
BBC iPlayer i-may-destroy-you
Digital Spy - I May Destroy You Review