I May Destroy You- The first in a new wave of writing.

Photograph:BBC Pictures.

I May Destroy You is an eye opening focus on sexual assault following a young writer called Arabella and her group of friends. The story begins with Arabella attempting to complete a writing submission by morning, but she is quickly tempted into attending a night out with a male friend nearby. Sat back in the office the next day feeling hazy, she becomes suspicious when she realises she can’t remember smashing her phone or how she got back, beginning her investigation into what happened that night. As she comes to terms with her assault, the script explores it through the characters which surround her and it starts to feel as though trauma is lurking in every corner of society. I May Destroy You is a great piece of writing, one of many ‘firsts’ for the BBC, however it isn’t the strongest piece the BBC have produced.

A Representative Portrayal of Black London 
One of the most notable aspects of the piece is that Coel provides a relatable young black Londoner’s experience, as she soundtracks the series with black content creators and musicians. I May Destroy You reveals the failures of other BBC dramas; all too often they present only one dimensional black characters, involved with gang crime or living in poverty. Coel presents black people in positions of power and wealth, in creative work as well as in the traditional first generation home.

The Creative’s Struggle
It is clear from the writing that Coel is young and newly established, as she spends much of her time focusing on the young creatives struggle and the pain that often comes with freelance work. We see it in Arabella’s battle to stay as a commissioned writer while dealing with trauma and missing a formal education, as well as with her best friend Terry’s attempts to get cast for low level acting jobs. One of my favourite aspects of the whole series was seeing them ecstatic for Terry for finally landing a paid TV commercial, even though it was brief and cheesy. It is this that made me realise how rarely the BBC has reflected the young creative battle that so many are familiar with.

Sexual Assault 
Finally and most significantly, Coel discusses the many guises of sexual assault, as she educates the viewer in consent, through some grim but truthful scenes. I May Destroy You strays from the usual heteronormative portrayal of rape on screen, which spends little emotional time with the victims and assumes all the victims to be female. It instead presents a vulnerable society, where anyone could fall victim in a wide variety of ways. Most importantly the series places more focus on subsequent trauma, than on the event itself. From the millennial need to turn your trauma into ‘social media inspiration’, to pathetic art therapies, it explores the long term effect of sexual assault. Good and evil are constantly trading places as the lines between victim and perpetrator blur continually, showing that it isn’t as black and white as the media would often have you believe. The best discussion of trauma however, came in the ending which speaks to both the reality of most conclusions of sexual assault, as well as what real recovery from trauma looks like. Often it is not vengeance or ‘justice’, but letting go which is considered to be the best possible ending.

However, while Coel undoubtedly presents a powerful script filled with originality, the delivery lacked subtlety and flow. I found the throwing around of timelines amateur and the obviousness of the content frustrating. Everything being said was great, it just felt too forced. I May Destroy You is said to be ‘revolutionary’ and while Coel was certainly the first to bring such an inclusive portrayal of sexual assault and young person experience to the screen, her content is simply a reflection of millennial and gen- Z Twitter and Instagram feeds, moved into mainstream media. Although this is certainly a feat, and it is great to finally see social media discourse and TV merging, I think we can expect to see better dramas coming forward from the new generation of writers who are also familiar with this same online narrative. I May Destroy You is a season of firsts, but it certainly won’t be the last or the best executed.

7/10

BlackAF

Photograph: Gabriel Delerme

Looking for an easy watch comedy during the lockdown? Look no further than Kenya Barris’ BlackAF, following on from his earlier series ‘black-ish’, ‘grown-ish’ and ‘mixed-ish’. Despite being criticised for being a rehashing of ‘Black Ish’, viewed in separation this is a funny and fresh watch, readily available at your Netflix fingertips. The series is a satirised depiction of Kenya Barris’ life, a wealthy comedy writer, presented as a documentary attempt by the protagonist’s daughter for her college application. Showing his black middle class family living in a white middle class world, the series confronts issues of prejudice, cultural identity, and ‘black art’ success in a way that (prior to Black Ish), I had never seen before. Kenya Barris may need to push himself to get away from the shadow of Black Ish, but here he has stuck to what he does best: expounding on his personal narrative in a satirical context.

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner @ The Royal Court Theatre

12. 08.19. “How exactly does one kill a social media figure/entrepreneur, or as I like to term her: a con artist-cum-provocateur?”

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner focuses on the perspective of a black English woman on the economic and online success of Kylie Jenner. The play sways between the protagonist, Cleo’s, ramblings on twitter and a dialogue with her mixed race best friend Kara as they’re sat in her bedroom. Throughout the play Cleo posts a series of tweets detailing the ways in which she would kill Kylie Jenner, which allows the play to explore the themes of social media and race as she faces both online criticism and debate with Kara.

A political core…

SMOFKKJ enlightened me to the cultural appropriation which is all over our social media pages by, mostly, white women who are able to mimic traits of black women through cosmetic surgery such as ‘big lips, wide hips and big bums’. In this piece Cleo argues that off the back cosmetic surgery are white women such as KJ making billions from features that Black women have while those very same features in black women have invited racism and even violence. SMOFKKJ invites the audience to give a long hard look at the people we put on pedestals and the racism at its core.

Another racial debate running parallel to that of cultural appropriation and success of white celebrities is that which is held in the discourse between black Cleo and her mixed raced best friend Kara. Ironically Cleo is racist to Kara calling her a ‘lighty’ stating that she’d had it ‘easier’ and stated that ‘bare man’ were looking to ‘jump’ on her. She cites mixed raced celebrities which are idolised for their beauty such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Jorja Smith while there are very few idolised black celebrity women. However, Kara replies while that they may be true she is and will always be ‘a black woman’, highlighting the isolation mixed race women can feel even from the black community.

Staging

The staging became a clever visual embodiment of the plays central themes. The sparse blocks of wood with cream mesh hanging above appeared both stylish and haunting. I took the wood to represent the natural while the mesh, something that is man made. The mesh had a single hanging noose, inviting reflection on the lynchings of black African American people Cleo speaks about, yet the mesh had a strange attractiveness to it like those you might see draped at a fancy beach club. In that sense the mesh became a discussion of the way in which the same features can double up to mean two very different things for different members of society.

Here I have focused on the central theme of the play, racism but the play covered so much more which I won’t discuss here including feminism, homosexuality and social media. It is one of the most thought provoking pieces I have seen in a while.

My rating: 10/10 poltical, current, moving, hilarious.