“I May Destroy You” creator and star Michaela Coel has said she felt “incredibly empowered” after turning down a $1 million offer from streaming giant Netflix for the show that eventually found its home at HBO and the BBC.
Coel revealed earlier this month how, in May 2017, with the help of her then agents CAA, she had negotiated a deal with Netflix, but it fell through when she asked for a percentage of the show’s copyright. In a frank conversation hosted by Farrah Chaudhry on Tuesday, as part of the BBC’s first ‘Creative Diversity Xperience,’ Coel said that while it was initially easy to accept the check, “something made me question the nature of the deal.”
“It wasn’t just a check,” Coel said. “I needed to know what was behind the check and exactly how things were operating. So I guess I began to ask questions. I think that’s the difficult bit — daring to ask questions. That wasn’t easy. But then the minute you begin to ask, and you realize that the answers aren’t clear, for me then it was very easy.”
“And I felt incredibly empowered,” Coel continued. “Keep asking questions and watch people stutter… I began to enjoy it. I began to enjoy realizing that they thought I was … just going to take it, then being like ‘Surprise bitches, I’m not taking it.’ And then actually I was really empowered,” Coel said.
“There were contracts I was yet to sign, and I said, you know, if the word of mouth that I’m going to do this is enough for you to take me to court, then take everything I have. The little I have, then take it. I will be left homeless and poor, and I will say no to this. I was prepared. So I was empowered and happy to have nothing and left desolate,” Coel concluded about the deal.
The audience for the virtual conversation had several aspiring writers who had questions regarding how the very successful Coel, whose credits also include BAFTA-winning series “Chewing Gum,” tackled Blackness and queerness while developing scripts. Coel said she always involves relevant friends to help her with that aspect of the script as consultants.
“Whenever I had to write a story that involved the queer perspective, the trans perspective or a gay perspective, I would definitely have to have a conversation,” said Coel. “I would literally say to a friend, ‘I’m looking for a Black trans guy that I need to speak to, I’m looking for someone I can talk to about experiences, dating.’
“Even though it might be for a small part, I have to have that rooted in some sort of reality, so that’s what I did and that was really helpful,” said Coel. “I would send the episodes or scenes to the guys that I’d spoken to, to get their opinion on how they felt about the scenes. Just, I think, I feel better about that if I have their blessing. I wouldn’t have been able to write those had I not.”