While stateside awards shows haven’t been as quick to give Michaela Coel her due (and, in the case of the Golden Globes, subsequently imploded after snubbing the creator), at least the Brits have the good sense to lavish trophies on home-grown talent.
At the 2021 TV BAFTA TV Awards on Sunday night, Coel triumphed in multiple categories, taking home wins for her masterwork “I May Destroy You,” the HBO series partly inspired by her own sexual assault, which has been universally praised for its bracing exploration of consent and trauma.
Accepting the BAFTA trophy for Leading Actress on stage at London’s Television Centre, Coel dedicated the award to the show’s “essential” intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, who helped the creator safely bring nuanced and realistic depictions of assault to the screen.
“Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe for creating physical, emotional, and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power, without being exploited or abused in the process,” said Coel, who also picked up the award for Best Miniseries.
“I know what it’s like to shoot without an intimacy director — the messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew, the internal devastation for the actor,” she continued. “Your direction was essential to my show, and I believe essential for every production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”
Not too long ago, intimacy coordinators were a rarity on film and television sets. But after the Me Too movement gained prominence in Hollywood, the industry has largely embraced working with experts, who serve as liaisons between actors and producers to prevent abuse and ensure performers are comfortable at every stage while filming scenes of a sexual nature. In 2018, HBO announced that it would staff intimacy coordinators across all of its programming, setting an industry standard that allowed creators like Coel to responsibly tell their own stories.
The “Chewing Gum” star further elaborated on collaborating with O’Brien in the press room, telling Variety that having an intimacy coordinator allowed her to craft a series that “looks harrowing, that looks inappropriate, whilst being totally appropriate, whilst being protected.”
“I also think it’s a very vulnerable place for not just actors, for the crew as well, because the crew might have had experiences and it triggers things for them. So, to have her there protects everybody,” said Coel. “And if you don’t have people like Ita on set when you’re shooting things like that, I think it’s quite thoughtless, and I think it’s really inconsiderate and it shows a lack of mindfulness.”
And, while Coel once again confirmed that “I May Destroy You” was a one-and-done endeavor, she said filming the series “really helped me get past some troubling stuff” in her own life.
“What it enabled me to do is sort of pair something quite tragic with something quite beautiful,” she explained. “And that was being able to make a show and create opportunities and see everybody’s talents come together to create it. It kind of helped. It kind of replaced bad memories with really nice ones.”
Watch her speech below.