Michaela Coel Just Revealed Why She Refused to Sign a Deal With Netflix for ‘I May Destroy You’
Since she burst on to the scene with her critically acclaimed Netflix series, Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel has been showing us a new version of storytelling. While Chewing Gum following the naive young woman, Tracey looking for love despite her religious upbringing, HBO’s I May Destroy You is a different type of story altogether.
The dramatic comedy only recently debuted on HBO, but it’s already garnering critical acclaim. Coel sat on the idea for the series for years, shopping it around to different networks. Since Chewing Gum had found a home at Netflix, it seemed like the most obvious fit.
However, the British-born creator/actor just got real about why she refused to sign a deal with the streaming service.
Michael Coel’s ‘I May Destroy You’ is based on her life
Created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by Coel, the 12-episode drama/comedy, was inspired by a sexual assault that Coel experienced while she was writing Chewing Gum. The 32-year-old got candid about her experience in 2018 during a speech at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
I May Destroy You follows Arabella (Coel), a London-based writer who got her start on Twitter and transformed it into her debut novel, Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial. Heralded as an iconic writer, Arabella is struggling with her second novel when she decides to take a night off to go out on the town with her friends.
The following day, Arabella arises to realize something isn’t quite right. With only flashes of the evening left in her memory, she pieces together the evening and her sexual assault with the help of her friends Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu).
The series is already being praised for its boldness and the delicate balance between pain and humor. “The show is calling for introspection,” Coel told Vulture. “We know how to look out. We’ve been doing that. Don’t forget: Also look in.”
Netflix tried to buy ‘I May Destroy You’ in 2017
Initially when Coel began shopping I May Destroy You back in 2017, Netflix was very interested. In the Spring of that year, the streaming service offered Coel $1 million upfront. For a young Black female writer, that seems like a dream. However, the Been So Long actor realized there were some major strings attached.
Coel learned that Netflix was not going to allow her to retain any percentage of the copyright of the series which was extremely unsettling to her. Coel’s then agency U.S. based CAA tried to pressure her into taking the deal. She learned that they would earn an undisclosed amount of money if she signed.
Instead, the writer/creator fired CAA.
This is why Michaela Coel refused to sign a deal with Netflix
Coel explained to Vulture that she learned to ask endless amounts of questions. It seems that people don’t always have a full explanation for things when they should.
Though she fired CAA, Netflix still desperately wanted I May Destroy You. The actor revealed that she finally agreed to chat with a senior-level development executive at Netflix. However, when she asked for 5% of the rights to the show, she was denied.
“There was just silence on the phone,” she said. “And she said, ‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal.’ I said, ‘If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have 5 percent of my rights.’ ” Silence. She bargained down to 2 percent, one percent, and finally 0.5 percent. The woman said she’d have to run it up the chain. Then she paused and said, ‘Michaela? I just want you to know I’m really proud of you. You’re doing the right thing.’ And she hung up.”
That fall, BBC brought the series giving Coel full creative control, and the rights to the work. HBO later came on board as a co-producer during the series’ development.