AWARDS SEASON

Michaela Coel Finally Gets the Awards Season Recognition She Deserves

Michaela Coel at the 2021 BAFTAs
Photo by Tim P. Whitby via Getty Images

Michaela Coel stole the show at the 2021 BAFTA Television Awards in London on Sunday night, winning the Best Miniseries and Best Leading Actress awards for her hit 2020 HBO-BBC show I May Destroy You. Wearing a trailing, open-backed gown by Maximilian Davis, London’s latest design star who is noted for celebrating his Caribbean heritage, Coel finally got her much-deserved major awards show moment for the mini-series that wowed audiences and critics alike last summer. Coel not only stars as Arabella, a Londoner confronting the trauma of her sexual assault; she also created, wrote, executive produced and co-directed the series.

Though Coel was notably snubbed by the Golden Globes, the show will be eligible for this year’s Emmy awards as well. Hopefully, her BAFTAs triumph will add to the momentum and the Emmys won’t repeat the Globes mistake.

Inside the ceremony, Coel took care to shout out a crew member key to the show’s radical honesty and nuance. “I want to dedicate this award to the director of intimacy Ita O’Brien,” she said when accepting the award for Best Leading Actress. “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.” Such a role, the 33-year-old continued, is “essential”: “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.”

Last night’s ceremony was also a moment for others in the cast, too. Weruche Opia, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Arabella’s other half, Terry, wore a pink sequined gown with cut-out sleeves by Valentino. Joining them was Best Leading Actor nominee Paapa Essiedu, who went with a custom burnt orange suit, white turtleneck, and platforms (all also by Valentino).

For the moment, Coel is taking a break from TV; she’s instead working on her first book, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto, about “how speaking your truth and owning your differences can transform your life” out this September. As for Opia and Essiedu, the former is currently filming Slumberland, starring Jason Momoa as a half-monster, while the latter will soon star in Alex Garland’s A24 horror film Men.