Michaela Coel is a thirty-three-year-old British writer, actor, singer and poet of Ghanaian origins. Raised with her older sister by her single mother on a housing estate in inner city London, as a child Coel was bullied for her full lips and called ‘coconut’, a racial slur used for black people who ‘act’ as if they were white.

She enrolled in political science at university but then changed to literature and theology while she worked as a cleaner to pay her tuition fees. In 2006 she became a Christian and became interested in writing. She dropped out of university and applied to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, becoming the first black female student to be accepted in the prestigious institution for five years.


Success came in 2015 with Chewing Gum, a semi-autobiographical dramedy series based on a story Coel wrote in college. She confessed she had made forty-one drafts of the script until coming up with a satisfying result. The series, which she also produced, directed and starred in, won two BAFTA awards for best female comedy performance and for breakthrough talent, and opened the door to roles in major productions, including in the Netflix series Black Mirror and Black Earth Rising, and a minor role in the film Star Wars: The Last Jedi.


Coel considers writing cathartic. Through stories, she says, she has found strength, a fact that is reflected in her creative process. When Netflix offered her a multi-million deal, she refused because she wouldn’t have been allowed to retain a percentage of the copyright. Bold and outspoken, Coel has declared that she is more interested in her mental health than in her career.

Proof that is her second series I May Destroy You, based on her own painful experience. In 2016, on a night out at a bar, a stranger spiked her drink and two men sexually assaulted her. After talking about it with friends and acquaintances, she realised that sexual assault was more common than she had thought. It became the starting point of a story centred on sexual consent in the age of dating apps and speed relationships. With I May Destroy You Coel raised issues such as the health of our affective bonds, as well as racism and gender, and demonstrated how personal trauma can be transformed into a powerful work of art.