• The Feminist Times

I May Destroy You: The Power of Women’s Perspective

The writer of the story, Michaela Coel, told in an interview with Vulture that after finishing the story, she didn’t just feel a singular emotion. It was ineffable, she stated. That’s exactly how the audience will feel after watching HBO’s award-winning series ‘I May Destroy You’. There will be so many layered feelings, so many emotions to process that the storytelling will help you learn, unlearn and above all, move you.

Much talk has happened about the show as it bagged BAFTA awards in major categories and piqued critic’s interests in the past week.

The world of Arabella, the central character of the show, captivates you right from the beginning. It is nothing unusual than ours. She is a London-based writer and her time revolves around work deadlines, write-ups, parties, and trusted friends. She is that unapologetic urban millennial woman we all know, we all see, talk, and connect to. Yet her struggle feels more personal when she narrates a powerful excerpt from her upcoming book to her literary agents, “For a long time, I didn’t pay attention that I was a woman. Guess I was too busy being poor and black.” Coel has shown the struggles of the black community in a very subtle and intelligent way through unconventional characters without any hint of political statement.

The emotionally relatable world of Arabella being a woman of colour and hustling in a creative world takes a different route when she is sexually assaulted one night in a bar while going out for drinks with friends. A deeply unnerving and disrupting image starts flashing in her mind as she can’t recall exactly what happened to her after she blacked out.

Coel’s acting caliber moves you in those times when she comes to terms with the fact that she has been abused. The disbelief, the shock, the horror, the hurt acted by her proves that Michaela is a force to reckon with.

In the recent past, we have celebrated female writers in mainstream TV scripts like Phoebe Waller-Bridge in ‘Fleabag’ or Laurie Nunn in ‘Sex Education’. I May Destroy You’s biggest feminist ally is a woman’s full creative control in her own story, eradicating any probability of male gaze or lack of delicacy. A woman’s journey is told from a woman’s perspective. Her nuanced portrayal and narrative of the show are unadulterated and multi-faceted, just like women’s minds. It’s complex! There is no one way to put it.

Women and even men who live with women deal with menstruation for half of their lives. Yet Coel almost attempts to radicalize the TV narrative for the very first time by actually daring to show the bits and pieces of her unfiltered take on what it looks like living and dealing with period casually. Her writing is fresh, interesting, it creates awareness and throws caution and taboo off the bus. The power and solidarity of female friendships echo loudly in the entire show. Arabella and her best friend Terry’s friendship motto- ‘Your birth is my birth, your death is my death’ is the amazing dynamic that we need to see more on screen. Coel beautifully showed us the importance of sisterhood against the world and finding comfort in friends more so at times of personal and emotional crisis.

For sexual assault and trauma survivors, the show’s unsettling and chilling exploration can be at times triggering even painful. But if you bear with Arabella during those unsettling times, her brilliance and honesty will be comforting and empowering. Many shows have talked about sexual assault, the pain and devastating impact of it. But Coel has attempted to tell us for the first time, what happens in the real world when justice is not met. The complexity of the lawful guidelines often subverts complicated real-life situations where the line between right, wrong, and violation is thin. Sex means different things to different people. The shift in power dynamics, contextual sentiments, and intricacies of a gamut of experiences in young people’s lives is phenomenally portrayed and explored here. Why Coel named the story ‘I May Destroy You’, well, I will leave this interpretation to you. But what I can assure you is that her storytelling is disruptive, different, a pure women’s take on the world around us within the cusps of intersectionality and everything millennial. In other words, whether literature, television, films, or plays, we just need more writers like Michaela Coel.


- Sriparna Samajdar


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