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    Michaela Coel Gave A Powerful Speech About Her Experience Of Sexual Assault And The Acting Industry

    The Chewing Gum and Black Mirror actor spoke at the Edinburgh TV Festival about the racial discrimination and sexual assault she’s experienced in her chosen profession.

    Michaela Coel, the writer and actor behind the critically acclaimed Chewing Gum, has delivered a powerful speech in which she addressed discrimination and the treatment of sexual assault survivors in the entertainment industry.

    Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Coel shared two stories that reflected her experience as a black woman in the acting industry.

    E4 / Chewing Gum

    Coel firstly revealed that she often feels an “outsider” in her chosen profession, and described herself as a “misfit”. She said: “Being a misfit hurts. I can recall rummaging through a gift bag for my first big mainstream award. It contained dry shampoo, tanning lotion, and a foundation even Kim Kardashian was too dark for. A reminder: This isn’t your house.”

    She also spoke of one day when black actors had different conditions to a white actor: “It was day one of the shoot. I approached the trailers to find five actors and actresses ranging in tones of brown and black, including the woman who plays my mother, bound up in one-third of a trailer. The second trailer was occupied by an actress, looking like privileged piggy in the middle, and the third was mine, the writer.”

    She went on to describe the racially charged abuse she and a friend experienced at an awards ceremony.

    Channel 4 / E4

    She said: “I won an award, for writing. At the afterparty, a London producer introduced himself to me. I said, ‘Oh yes, nice to meet you.’ ‘Do you know how much I want to fuck you right now?’ was his immediate choice of response. I turned from him and went home so quickly I left my plus-one. He called, upset. Someone called him a nigger.”

    But then Coel opened up about being sexually assaulted while writing the second season of Chewing Gum.

    E4

    She told audiences: “Some say our industry is a microcosm of the world. It’s a delicate dance, isn’t it; the world reflecting us, we in turn, the world. We have to remember that there are people, outsiders to this industry, being raped by men and women, who lack any celebrity status to snatch, or public power to dissolve.

    “I was working overnight in the company’s offices; I had an episode due at 7am. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby. I emerged into consciousness typing Season 2, many hours later. I was lucky. I had a flashback. It turned out I’d been sexually assaulted by strangers. The first people I called after the police, before my own family, were the producers.”

    She went on to say that despite the traumatic experience, she was advised by a colleague that she would have to take a break from her deadlines rather than wait for one to be offered.

    Flickr: edtvfest

    She said: “How do we operate in this family of television when there is an emergency? Overnight I saw them morph into an anxious team of employers and employees alike; teetering back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all.

    “Writing felt as though I was cramped in a third of a trailer, a mind overcrowded by flashbacks. I needed to push back the deadline; it was already tight, but just like those actors, I wasn’t sure how damaging it would be to the company, so couldn’t ask. I was lucky — someone was transparent with me: ‘They won’t offer you the break,’ a colleague said. ‘That’s not the way it is; you have to take it.’”

    Coel said that in the end the deadline was pushed back, and she was then sent to a private clinic where she received therapy: “I would like to stress: I was not raped within the offices of the company, and I have never been raped by anyone at the company,” she said.

    Coel concluded by encouraging other survivors to seek help.

    Getty Images

    She said: “For survivors of such trauma, therapy’s great. And you can get it for free. There are many specialist centres, like the Havens in London, and Survivors Trust UK, an inclusive service for sexual assault survivors who welcome those who identify as male, trans, nonbinary. Anyone who feels like they’re struggling can get free therapy on the NHS. My mum has been a mental health specialist there for a decade; that’s why I know. It’s good to talk, and engage with someone else, transparently.

    “I believe in treating our minds like we treat cars for MOTs — it’s probably fine, but check in, just in case.”

    She also explained why she decided to speak out: “Why are we platforming misfits, heralding them as newly rich successes whilst they balance on creaking ladders with little chance of social mobility? I can’t help usher them into this house if there’s doors within it they can’t open; it feels complicit. What I can do is be transparent about my experiences, because transparency helps.”

    In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Channel 4’s director of programmes Ian Katz said: “Michaela’s MacTaggart is a powerful and important wake-up call. She has raised vital questions about opportunity, support, transparency and inclusion that as an industry we must all address with urgency. The experiences she has described in her lecture are not what we would want for anyone working with Channel 4 or any part of our industry.

    “She has opened an honest debate about how we ensure that writers and performers, whatever their backgrounds, feel respected and heard. We want an industry that truly celebrates difference and is accessible to all, so broadcasters and producers now need to work in partnership to act on the issues she has raised.”

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