On my radar: Michaela Coel’s cultural highlights

The actor, writer and creator of Chewing Gum on the art of Khalil Joseph, the voice of Ari Lennox – and the author helping with her existential crisis

Michaela-Moses Ewuraba O Boakye-Collinson, better known as Michaela Coel, grew up in east London. She studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she was the first black woman to enrol in five years. Her graduation project, Chewing Gum Dreams, went on to be produced by the National Theatre in 2014 and subsequently became the E4 comedy series Chewing Gum, for which Coel won Baftas for best female performance and breakthrough talent. She has starred in E4 sci-fi comedy drama The Aliens, Channel 4’s Top Boy, and has had leading roles at the National Theatre, including Home. Michaela Coel stars in the Black Mirror episode USS Callister, on Netflix now.

1 | Nonfiction

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari

Now that I’ve abandoned religion I’ve had my first existential crisis. I know it’s a bit late. But my neighbour mentioned that her sister was reading this book, and for some reason I just bought it and fell in love with it. The blurb alone is very captivating: it says things like “you’re more likely to commit suicide than be killed in conflict” and “the only reason people are starving right now is politics”. It speaks about mankind’s priorities: now that we’ve more or less solved famine and disease, how do we occupy ourselves as a species? It gave me comfort in the fact that life is full of uncertainty and maybe that’s OK – I’ve started to accept that.

2 | Art

Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play

Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play, installed at the New Museum
Shadow Play at the New Museum, New York. Photograph: The New Museum, New York

This was a beautiful short film I saw in New York. I was there in October, and decided to extend my trip and stay for another week. My friend took me to see Kahlil Joseph, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, where he had a short film on. It’s about his background, about Harlem. It’s a beautiful snapshot of New York and black culture there, with incredible dancing. In the film he is just sitting, talking on the phone. There isn’t really a plot. It’s mesmerising, and the music is incredible. It’s almost like a dance film.

3 | Music

Pho by Ari Lennox

Ari Lennon

I was in Ghana a few weeks ago with my radio on Apple Music, just on an R&B radio station; I was brushing my teeth and this song came on. I was like, “What the hell is this, this is incredible”. I’d never heard of Ari Lennox. Her music is somewhere between neo-soul, R&B and indie, and I can also hear little traces of Erykah Badu. Her album has seven tracks, and every one of them is gorgeous. E, especially two songs called Backwood and Yuengling: just great songs, great voice, great writing. I wish I’d heard of her sooner. I wrote about it on Twitter and she wrote to me saying thank you, which was really sweet.

4 | Audiobook

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck audiobook

Oh man, this is amazing. It’s a book for this generation: it talks about social media, and “outrage porn” and “victimhood chic”. We live in this era where we really enjoy being offended, although only on the internet. I don’t know how beneficial it is. I wonder if we live in an age where we don’t have power, yet somehow feel we have virtual power. But I feel like it’s a distraction from real life. The book also speaks about love and relationships. And honestly, Roger Wayne reads with such passion, it’s like he wrote it himself.I love listening to audiobooks – I always lose my glasses, but if I have an audiobook I don’t need them.

5 | Documentary

Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity (BBC Two)

Louis Theroux in By Reason of Insanity

I’m a Louis Theroux addict. Me and my housemate just sit there and marathon his documentaries. I love that he gets to go to so many different societies and doesn’t interfere. This new two-part show is about people who have committed crimes but can’t own up to them because they’re not mentally in a place to understand what they’ve done – “not guilty by reason of insanity” – so they go to a place to have mental rehabilitation. Louis has one conversation with a guy who had been there for seven years after killing his father, and I think Louis changed his life. And one of them comes clean and admits he isn’t crazy at all. It’s really incredible.

6 | Comedy

Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark (Netflix)

Trevor Noah. London. Photograph by David Levene 24/11/16

What I liked about this standup show is that it’s hilarious, but also incredibly insightful. You learn things about race relations, gender, culture. He travels around the world and makes jokes about the things he has discovered. There’s a very good point about accents: how when we hear people with accents trying to speak English, we’re threatened by them – for example, English with a Russian accent sounds terrifying, so if you want to scare off a guy in a bar, do a Russian accent. But if you listen to a Russian person speaking Russian, they don’t sound terrifying at all. He also makes a joke about why we call it “Great” Britain – I’d never thought about that.

7 | TV

Mindhunter (Netflix)

Jonathan Groff in a scene from Mindhunter
‘Great performances’: Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter. Photograph: AP

This drama is set in the 70s, when they began to realise people don’t commit crimes because they’re born evil, and it questions whether something in the person’s background made them commit the crime – their upbringing, or a traumatic event. There was a period of time when the police department never considered that. I think, to an extent, a lot of people in law don’t believe that now. It’s produced by David Fincher, and one of the episodes is directed by Asif Kapadia, who did the Amy Winehouse documentary – I think he’s brilliant. The characters in prison are out of this world – just some great, great performances.


Interview by Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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