Award-winning Actress and Playwright Michaela Coel exploded onto the scene when her critically acclaimed UK television show Chewing Gum, became available to the rest of us via Netflix. (The official UK debut took place two years ago). Her stock has been steadily rising ever since.
Coel, who many agree bears a striking resemblance to the legendary Nina Simone, chopped it up with Stylist Magazine about her upbringing, what it means to push the envelope and disrupt the status quo time after time and how she feels about being a role model for dark-skinned women on the come up.
You often write things that are typically ‘unsayable’ – the bits of life that people usually bury in a deep place. Is that just who you are or do you like to make people feel uncomfortable?
I do like making people feel uncomfortable – it’s separating the wheat from the chaff. There is a bunch of people that are like, ‘Oh no, that’s too much for me, I’m changing channels.’ I think, ‘Good, it wasn’t for you. This is for my people – people who can actually stomach that sh*t and laugh.’ I’ve had times where I’m typing and I’m like, ‘No way I can’t do that!’ But my fingers keep typing and I’m cringing just writing the words.
On Twitter, one of your followers wrote about a piece in The New York Times where they recommended your show, but illustrated it with a picture of your lighter-skinned co-star Danielle Walters, and the follower was criticising it as “another form of erasure” Was that upsetting?
You know what? It’s not upsetting at all.
Isn’t it? That makes it almost worse that these things no longer upset you.
Yeah, I think it is worse. The thing is no-one is setting out to hurt me, it happens a lot. For example, at awards shows, you get gift bags and I always get white people’s make-up, because they don’t think about it. Then the minute you highlight it they’re like, “Oh my god, I’m mortified, I’m so sorry!”
So it’s insidious…
Yes, and actually it is unacceptable now and I think this has got to stop.
In the same piece, the writer talked about how her support of you was based on “[your] singularity in representing dark-skinned black women in British TV”. Is being a role model something you want?
You know what, not really. I don’t think anyone [does]. Viola Davis is one of my role models. I don’t think she wants to be a role model. For me that’s what probably makes her all the more of a role model. As long as people get that I’m not going to hurt anyone, but I’m going to do what I want – if that is what you see as something to aspire to, then great. But it’s not really my job, I’m not paid to be a role model, I’m paid to make TV shows.
You can read the full interview @ Stylist Magazine.