‘Chewing Gum’: Michaela Coel Says the Conditions for Black Actors on the Show Were ‘Disgraceful’
Michaela Coel got her start in the TV industry with the series Chewing Gum. While the show launched an impressive career — including the HBO show I May Destroy You — she and the Black actors on Chewing Gum dealt with some tense situations onset.
‘Chewing Gum’ creator and star Michaela Coel called the original conditions for Black actors ‘disgraceful’
Vulture referred to Coel’s experience creating and shooting Chewing Gum “difficult to sort.” As the publication explained:
The show launched her career, but making it was marred by professional challenges that highlight the inevitably complicated dynamic of institutions trying to bring in ‘outsiders’ — people with no television experience whose very cachet comes from the fact that they don’t look like you — without actually empowering them.
Coel felt that lack of empowerment — and that of her fellow Black castmates — on the first day on the Chewing Gum set.
“Coel arrived the first day to discover that five Black cast members were confined to a single trailer, while a white actor had one to herself,” Vulture reported. The Chewing Gum creator “stormed into the production office” upon seeing the trailer set-up.
“In that moment, I was like, ‘This is disgraceful,’ ” Coel told Vulture. “While the mess is going on outside, you sat here, clueless.” Coel’s intervention paid off — “production ordered more trailers” — but that wasn’t the last time the writer/actor would deal with “friction” dealing with the other producers and executives on Chewing Gum.
‘Chewing Gum’ cast members were disrespected, Coel recalls
Coel ended up in a “tense moment” with the Chewing Gum director Tom Marshall. The director was referring to cast members Cynthia Erivo and Ronke Adekoluejo as “the twins” — and not using their real names. Coel had one of the Chewing Gum producers talk to Marshall about it. However, “the next day it happened again.” When Coel requested to speak with the director, “he lost his temper.”
“He screamed at her like she was a naughty schoolchild, to the point where she physically got upset and left set,” Chewing Gum cast member Kadiff Kirwan explained.
“It felt as if every single day that I had spent earning the respect of the crew and the cast had just disappeared,” Coel told Vulture.
Michaela Coel had to fight for a co-producer title for the TV show she created
The other snub Coel dealt with on the Chewing Gum set was her title on the show. Even though “she was involved with virtually every aspect of making the show, from the music to the costumes to postproduction,” they refused to make Coel an executive producer.
On the second season of Chewing Gum, Coel requested the title and sat through a 3-hour meeting on the topic.
“… the exec was just like, No, no, no, no,” Coel recalled.
“They made her a co-producer instead,” Vulture reported. Coel chalked it up to “greed,” she adds.
“You’re trying to pawn her off with this little crumb,” Kirwan said about the situation. “It’s like she built this house and gave the keys to someone, and they locked her out of different rooms in her own house, which is absolute bullsh*t.”