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Things we can all learn from the series ‘I may destroy you’

Things we can all learn from the series ‘I may destroy you’

The British drama series ‘I may destroy you’ is a painful warning about how the human being is crossing boundaries regarding what is a sexual assault or consent, and mental and physical abuse against women (also men) and their implications for victims’ lives. The series is signed by the talented multi-tasking artist Michaela Coel, who is best known for her performance as Tracey in the ‘Chewing Gum’ Netflix series, that she also created and wrote in 2015-2017. In 2020, Michaela came back with ‘I may destroy you’, based on her autobiographical rape story, that happened when she was writing the second season of ‘Chewing Gum’. 

 ‘I may destroy you’ was released in June for BBC one and HBO, and it has become a hit worldwide. It follows the misadventures of Arabella, a modern, independent, outgoing, millennial icon, talented writer and black woman, from the cosmopolitan London. She is a digital influencer that has become a writer after seeing her posts published as the book ‘Chronicles of a fed-up Millennial’. It led her to sign a contract with vanguard publishers to produce her second book. While she is struggling to write her second book under a deadline to finish a draft, she decides to procrastinate by meeting up with an old friend, Simon. They drink, they do drugs, and they have fun. At one point in the night, she starts stumbling and she blacks-out. The next thing she realises, she’s back in her agents’ office, writing her book, and she starts to have some flashbacks about what she had passed through the previous night. At this point, the conflict of the narrative is established: Arabella deals with the fact that she’d been drugged and raped at some point that night. 

BBC / HBO

From this moment, the narrative goes towards Arabella’s sexual assault and its consequences in her life. She sees her happy life fading away, being interrupted by a traumatic episode that triggers her to develop a suspicious and a view of disbelief over humanity. The story moves brave and delicate at once, untangling the trauma of Arabella’s sexual assault with dark humour and moments of deep discomfort all held together, such as when Arabella meets another victim while being examined at the Police station and asks her if that one was the first rape she has suffered. 

‘I May Destroy You’ is not just about a woman raped and her fight for justice, it’s bigger than that. The premise proposes a reflection of how human beings are violating the boundaries that the planet has pre-established for us to work as a human society, and how victims of this failed system can survive their traumas. Each and every boundary stretched, each and every door kicked in, each and every bit of consent obliterated is an act of destruction, and because human beings keep constructing hierarchies that give some people undue power over other people, that destruction keeps spreading outward. 

Now, you can check out a few storylines that unveiled human beingsdestructive behaviours:

Arabella, while trying to absorb and elaborating what it’s going on her life, is suddenly involved in another abuse when she has a sexual encounter with Zain (Karan Gill), a writer that helps her to develop her new book. They started out as consensual and protected sex, but, afterwards, he owned up to having removed his condom during sex, even claiming with practised naivety that he thought she’d known. Arabella’s not immediately outraged. It’s not until later that she realises how violating his act was.

BBC/ HBO

Arabella has the support of her best friends Terry (Weruche Opia), a cheerful, inexperienced and insecure black actress looking for a job opportunity, and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a strong and free homosexual, dance teacher and young black man. They are close friends who share their lives in London and come from a poor black community.

BBC / HBO

Kwame is a single guy who is on gay apps such as Grindr looking for casual sex and fun. He goes to a hookup and afterwards, having consented sex, he is forced by another black man to have intercourse again. This action triggers Kwame into a deep feeling of fear and insecurity. It shows up how male sexual abuse can happen and how the authorities don’t seem to care about it – such as when the police officer poorly deals with his report, in a police station in UK; especially if the victim is a gay black man, as the series discussed.

 

BBC / HBO

Terry, who had a threesome one night stand, while on holidays in Italy with Bella, and she has since felt empowered for her first menage à trois conquering. Actually, later discovers that she had been used by two guys who were probably friends and tricked her into thinking they didn’t know each other and that it was spontaneous in order to have sex with her. Bingo: That was a kind of violation.

BBC / HBO

During Arabella’s journey, she has her black woman image and digital media influencer appeals exploited by a vegan company in which the owner wants to promote his own business. That provokes a discussion about the ‘noble gestures that come from companies’ – even sustainability and veganism businesses; hide the real intention and that it can just be a marketing strategy to get likes and subscriptions, become famous and make profits. Arabella becomes aware she was selling her black image and her social engagement for money. She violates her race and beliefs because of the corrupted system in this world. 

Linked with the plastic fake lives on social media, it is reflected by Arabella, when she exposes her traumas on social media, minimising their effects on her. She is a kind of inspiration, a model and saviour for her followers. She spends her time busy trying to solve their issues, while she could be solving and overcoming her own. It’s a critique about the obsession for social media by Millennials. Followers expect to have support from their digital influencers, they expect them to share every single situation, they treat the influencers like a God, creating a toxic relationship.

BBC / HBO

In one gut-wrenching scene, Arabella speaks about how the feminist cause didn’t appeal to her when she was younger, because she had been too “busy being black and poor”. That shows how people (politicians, religious leaders, media, companies) are around us making grave mistakes years and years and how these things make us busy to fight against other bad things that are necessary to get rid of or get changed. People are always crossing boundaries and at a certain point, someone will fix it. 

BBC / HBO

‘I may destroy you’ is a cruel reflection of contemporary society caused by the violation of bodies and minds, races, genders, women rights, LGBTQ+ rights and black rights. The last episode presents to us that bad things can’t be avoided and they will damage us, but we need to discuss them and deal with them. Arabella has learned from her tragedy and inevitably now sees everything through another filter. The series unfolds its manifesto in relation to the myth that trauma can be something “transformative”: it is not a matter of saying that Arabella became “stronger”, but that during her journey seeking for cure and justice, she accepts her traumas as part of her own story, because what doesn’t kill you may not make you stronger, but perhaps it won’t break you, either.

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I am a script and creative writer, journalist, producer, and marketing content developer with over 9 years of experience in Media (TV / Film Production), Communication, Journalism and Marketing. I worked for companies such as MTV, Animal Planet, Band, Discovery and, Fremantle Media. I am from Brazil, but I've been living in Dublin, Ireland, since 2017. I am also maniac for entertainment and pop culture.
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