Article by Sophie Aubrey /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
September 6, 2020 /
Click here to view original /
After three months of dodging spoilers and hearing international critics laud I May Destroy You as one of the best shows of the year, Australians have finally been able to catch up.
The BBC and HBO 12-part comedy-drama, which swelled into a cultural sensation after it premiered in the UK and US in June, landed on streaming service Binge on Wednesday.
When Arabella’s drink is spiked, she must question and rebuild every element of her life as she deals with the trauma that follows and begins to process the pain.
It’s a show that musician Janelle Monáe told Variety gave “me and so many the bravery to walk in our [truth]”, while singer Adele wrote she’d “never felt so many emotions at once”, and actor Seth Rogen declared, “holy s–t it’s good”.
I May Destroy You was almost destined to capture the zeitgeist, seamlessly blending together the knotty themes of sexual assault, consent, race, youth culture, friendship, career and social media, with careful nuance and – somehow – razor-sharp humour.
“It’s a kind of alchemy. It’s like magic. It manages to pull together a whole lot of threads … [and] it doesn’t seem heavy-handed or moralistic and that’s kind of wondrous,” says Associate Professor Kim Toffoletti, a Deakin University sociologist.
The series centres on Arabella, a London-based Twitter star and newly successful Millennial author who finds her life ripped in half by a sexual assault. The story follows her as she deals with the aftermath with the help of her close friends.
She’s played by the show’s 32-year-old British writer and director, Michaela Coel, who created the series after she was sexually assaulted while writing the second season of BAFTA-winning series Chewing Gum.
University of Newcastle’s Dr Jessica Ford researches TV and feminism, and says the series meets a hunger, following the #MeToo movement, for women to be able to tell their own complicated experiences of sexual abuse and its impacts.
“We’ve reached a point in cultural conversation … where women are being taken seriously and becoming legitimated authors of their own stories,” Ford says.
University of Melbourne gender and pop culture researcher Dr Lauren Rosewarne agrees: “In the years since the start of #MeToo there’s been an attempt to dub anything vaguely feminist or woman-centred as a product of the #MeToo era. I May Destroy You is one of few examples where that claim actually makes sense.”
Ford says the series breaks new ground with the way it unflinchingly explores trauma, consent and sexual violence, all at once.
Almost every episode challenges society’s understanding of consent, taking it far beyond the shallow concept of “no means no”.
“It effectively communicates the broadness of sexual assault… and that so many people are affected by this but none of it is clear cut,” Ford says.
And while Coel could not have anticipated that her show would emerge in a year where discussions of race dominate, it has made the series, which presents and celebrates black British culture, all the more resonant.
Coel addressed this in an interview with GQ: “I think that since the media has really even existed, it has dehumanised black people … To challenge that, and to present us as fluid, multi-dimensional human people, just like everybody else, feels like a really amazing privilege.”
Ford also points out that Arabella is loud and simmers with rage, and in many ways is a lot of things that women are told not to be. But much like the show isn’t interested in filtering its head-on look at consent, Ford says it isn’t interested in meeting racist, gendered stereotypes.
While the series’ key themes are inherently dark and thorny, it also exudes an immense amount of joy and Millennial buzz.
From the fashion to the music and vibrant city scenes, Ford describes it as “aesthetically beautiful”.
You need only read the title to already hit a point of fascination. “Who is destroying who?” Coel posed to Vanity Fair. “What’s been incredible is the whole new layer that has been revealed now that it’s out, with the audience asking, will this show destroy me?”