Baftas 2021: Michaela Coel dedicates win to intimacy coordinator

Coel picks up acting award as her hit drama I May Destroy You, which deals with sexual assault, wins best mini-series

Michaela Coel and her hit drama I May Destroy You won big at the 2021 television Baftas on Sunday – with Coel dedicating her acting award to the series’ intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien.

Accepting awards for a show that dealt with sexual abuse and consent, Coel said film and television sets were vulnerable places for actors and crew members. Not to have intimacy experts was “thoughtless” and showed a “lack of mindfulness”, she added.

I May Destroy You was one of the cultural events of 2020, in any genre, described by the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan as “astonishing, beautiful, thrilling”. The BBC and HBO series was inspired by Coel’s own experience of sexual assault by strangers after her drink was spiked. It is about the aftermath of a rape and is often called a “a sexual consent drama” but it is also a story of fun, friendship and more.

At Sunday’s Baftas ceremony it won best mini-series, triumphing over Small Axe, Normal People and Adult Material.

Coel was named best actress and dedicated her Bafta to the series’ intimacy director, O’Brien. “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.

“I know what it is like to shoot without an intimacy director. The messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew. The internal devastation for the actor. Your direction was essential to my show and I believe essential for every production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”

The Bafta ceremony was the first since the Guardian revealed in April that the actor Noel Clarke had been accused of groping, harassment and bullying by 20 women who knew him in a professional capacity. Clarke vehemently denies the allegations.

Amid ongoing debate over protections for people working in the film and television industries, Clarke was stripped of a Bafta award for outstanding British contribution to cinema, which was presented after the academy had been made aware of some of the claims, and his membership was suspended. Coel released a statement expressing support “for the 20 brave women who have come forward”.

I May Destroy You won in a strong year for British drama. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, which secured the biggest number of nominations and won five prizes at the recent Bafta Craft awards, came away on Sunday with just one award: best supporting actor for Malachi Kirby, who played Darcus Howe in Mangrove.

Paul Mescal won best actor for his portrayal of the smouldering and sensitive Connell in Normal People – one of a number of triumphs for the BBC.

Best entertainment performance went to Romesh Ranganathan for The Ranganation on BBC Two. He said it had been an easier series for him as he made it from his garage. “In many ways I feel I put in less effort and got more reward,” he joked.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No 9, now in its sixth series on BBC Two, won best scripted comedy from a shortlist that also contained Ghosts, This Country and Man Like Mobeen.

Casualty, perhaps reflecting the last year’s love and respect for the NHS, won in the soap and continuing drama category, beating Hollyoaks, Coronation Street and EastEnders. That was the show’s third win, still a way off EastEnders’ nine.

There were some surprises. The late Paul Ritter had been tipped to win best male performance in a comedy for Friday Night Dinner. It went to Charlie Cooper for BBC Three’s This Country.

The best entertainment programme category has been dominated in recent years by Strictly Come Dancing and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Both of those were nominated again, along with The Masked Singer, but it was Life & Rhymes which triumphed, a series celebrating spoken word on Sky Arts presented by Benjamin Zephaniah.

By far the trickiest category to work out was the one voted for by the public for must-see moment: Diversity’s powerful Black Lives Matter performance on Britain’s Got Talent versus Nigella Lawson saying ‘mee-cro-wah-vay’ instead of microwave and Luke Skywalker appearing on The Mandalorian. In the end the public voted for Diversity on BGT.

After last year’s strangely quiet virtual ceremony, the 2021 iteration was more of a hybrid event. This time there was a socially distanced audience, laughing at the best lines of host Richard Ayoade. “What need is there to live life, when we can watch it?” he asked.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Michaela Coel nominated for Screen Actors Guild best female actor award
Coel recognised for her performance in I May Destroy You a day after her omission from the Golden Globes nomination list

Toby Moses

04, Feb, 2021 @5:14 PM

Article image
Why I love… Michaela Coel
Coel is fearless. No joke is too risque, no comedic situation too outrageous to explore in pursuit of the funny

Bim Adewunmi

07, May, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
Michaela Coel on MacTaggart lecture: 'I feel better having shared'
The Chewing Gum star said she hopes her speech, in which she spoke about racism and her own sexual assault, will bring about change in the UK

Lanre Bakare in Edinburgh

23, Aug, 2018 @3:38 PM

Article image
Been So Long review – Michaela Coel tremendous in movie musical
Coel and Arinzé Kene are captivating as an unlikely couple who meet on a night out in Camden in this beguiling love story

Peter Bradshaw

14, Oct, 2018 @10:03 AM

Article image
Michaela Coel debuts as an author with Misfits: A Personal Manifesto
Out in September in the UK and the US, the creator of I May Destroy You is set to write ‘a rousing and bold case against fitting in’

Sian Cain

19, Apr, 2021 @2:36 PM

Article image
I May Destroy You's Weruche Opia: 'Michaela Coel showed our flaws and complexities'
The breakout star of the Guardian’s show of the year on her small-screen picks of 2020, and how her role as Terry divided viewers

Interview by Hannah J Davies

22, Dec, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
From Riz Ahmed to Michaela Coel: who should be the next Doctor Who?
Jodie Whittaker’s departure from the BBC role has been heavily rumoured – but who should be next in the Tardis? Here are 14 faces we’d love to play the 14th Doctor

Martin Belam

22, Jun, 2021 @3:25 PM

Article image
TV star Michaela Coel speaks out about sexual assault
Chewing Gum actor and writer calls on media industry to change in MacTaggart lecture

Jim Waterson Media editor

22, Aug, 2018 @5:31 PM

Article image
Michaela Coel: I’m lucky there are places I’m unknown and still see racism
I May Destroy You creator says experiencing discrimination reminds her to keep fighting it

Priya Elan

01, Sep, 2021 @10:03 AM

Article image
Michaela Coel: ‘People think I am fearless’
Michaela Coel, the screenwriter, actor and Bafta winner behind Chewing Gum, grew up in one of the country’s poorest boroughs. Here she reveals why TV provided not only an escape – but also the ‘glue’ to her life

Michaela Coel

01, May, 2016 @8:00 AM