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Michaela Coel, the rising British star of two Black Mirror episodes, has revealed that she was sexually assaulted while writing her BAFTA-winning Channel 4 comedy series Chewing Gum.
Giving the prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday, Coel described how she was working late one night on season two of the show in the production company’s offices in London.
“I had an episode due at 7 a.m. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby,” she said. “I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky. I had a flashback. It turned out I’d been sexually assaulted by strangers.”
Her producers, however, teetered “back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all,” she said. “When there are police involved, and footage, of people carrying your sleeping writer into dangerous places, when cuts are found, when there’s blood … what is your job?”
Although Coel said she was sent to a private clinic for therapy at the expense of the production company, when she requested that the deadline be pushed back and the channel to be informed as to why, she also said she found that the channel’s head of comedy hadn’t been told.
“Like any other experience I’ve found traumatic, it’s been therapeutic to write about it, and actively twist a narrative of pain into one of hope, and even humor,” she said. “And be able to share it with you, as part of a fictional drama on television, because I think transparency helps.”
The revelation came on the same day it was announced that Coel was set to write and star in Jan 22nd, a “fearless, frank and provocative” BBC drama exploring the issue of sexual consent, which would look into “the distinction between liberation and exploitation.”
Coel, also starring in Hugo Blick’s upcoming Netflix, BBC co-production Black Earth Rising, was the youngest and first non-white industry figure — and only the fifth woman — to give the keynote MacTaggart lecture in its 43-year history.
Among past MacTaggart speakers are the likes of Kevin Spacey, Vice’s Shane Smith, Rupert, James and Elisabeth Murdoch and Google chairman Eric Schmidt.
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