Review: Making sense of the senseless: Coel’s ‘I May Destroy You’ is this year’s biggest Golden Globe snub


Natalie Seery/HBO

Michaela Coel stars in “I May Destroy You” now streaming on HBO Max.

Natalie Duerr, news staff

Content warning: Mentions of sexual assault and rape

Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” is a sublime piece of autofiction; it is a profoundly personal epic that is somehow both of the moment and timeless. Arabella (Coel) is a Twitter famous up-and-coming writer with a great group of friends and a boyfriend in Italy, living the perceived dream life. While trying to meet a deadline, Arabella decides to blow off some steam and hit the London club scene with friends. After stumbling out of the club, she is suddenly back in the writing studio finishing her book, but with a fresh wound on her face and a shattered phone screen. 

“I May Destroy You” is about the process of overcoming trauma and making sense of the senseless. Sexual assault and rape are touchy subjects in media, often used as plot devices to move along the main (male) character, and the victims are often thoughtlessly cast aside. The show spotlights coming to terms with assault and moving onward in all its pain and beauty. Arabella’s path isn’t a straight line; she finds fulfillment in social media likes or picking fights with her friends, all with the goal of putting herself back together again.

It is in this realistic depiction of trauma and grief that the show shines. The plot of “I May Destroy You” relates to Coel’s own experience with sexual assault while working on her show, “Chewing Gum.”

“I don’t know if you can develop unless you’re transparent with yourself,” Coel said in an interview, discussing “I May Destroy You.” 

Coel cracked her consciousness open to the audience with a story that is provocative and honest. Her most personal story translates into a vulnerable, introspective series that examines the relationship between ourselves and bodily autonomy. Even with the level of emotional complexity, Coel’s script balances humor and wit, always keeping the viewer on their toes. 

Each character is believable, stumbling through their 20s and 30s with the omnipresence of social media and dating apps while still trying to find their voice. Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia) are Arabella’s best friends, and while they are there to support her, they aren’t crutches for Arabella’s growth. Both Kwame and Terry have intricate storylines and complete their own self-growth journey by the end of the show, allowing all three characters to mature together.

“I May Destroy You” is saturated in Coel’s brilliance and talent. Not only did she act in the show, but she also created, wrote, co-directed and produced it. At just 33, she has carved out a spot for herself as an artistic genius and one who knows her worth. Coel declined Netflix’s $1 million deal for the rights to “I May Destroy You” to keep ownership and for better transparency. She has continuously fought for her creative rights and continues to speak on the exploitation of new talent. 

While Coel’s show has critical acclaim, well-developed characters and compassionate performances, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or HFPA, did not nominate it for any Golden Globes last month, sparking outrage online. 

“The good thing about Awards season is that it can bring just as much attention to the films and tv shows that are highlighted as to those that go criminally unrecognized,” tweeted, American filmmaker Mark Duplass. 

The reasons the HFPA failed to nominate “I May Destroy You” will never be known, though one could theorize based on a historical lack of recognition for Black creatives. Still, Coel created an intersectional masterpiece that reflects the messy and beautiful human experience. Her show will surely endure the test of time.

“I May Destroy You” is currently available to stream on HBO Max.\