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

Michaela Coel says her MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival, during which she revealed she had suffered racism and sexual assault while working in the industry, was a cathartic exercise aimed at bringing change.

In a post-MacTaggart interview with comedian Katy Brand, Coel spoke about how the lecture was a way of letting others know they can speak about similar issues. “I feel better having shared honestly,” she said. “My only selfish gain is a good night’s sleep.

“I’m becoming clearer on what my role is in this industry,” she added. “I love telling stories, but I want this process of finding your role to be easier for other people. I really do, and that is really it for me.”

On Wednesday, Coel used the prestigious speech, which is delivered each year by a prominent TV industry figure, to speak about her experiences in the sector and the way she had been treated by peers and production companies.

She explained she had be sexually assaulted after going for drinks the night before a writing deadline.

“I had a flashback,” she said. “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.”

Coel said after doing so, the production company staff she had been working with began “teetering back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all”.

The speech, which brought audible gasps from the audience, was Coel trying to create a “transparent space”, she said. “I’m seeking out people who are willing to be transparent and that comes with the risk of losing everything. But I don’t mind because I’d rather have transparency.”

Coel also expanded on a story she told in the lecture about an American production company trying to acquire a show she had written for $1m, in a deal that would have seen Coel sign away all copyright.

“I’ve no mortgage, no credit card, no real kids, no car, happy with my bicycle; money’s nice, but I prefer transparency,” she explained. “My stories are my babies, I wanna look after them, so I asked to reserve a portion of my parental rights; my copyright … I used the only power I had; and declined.”

When asked to explain why she turned down the offer, she said the company’s response to the question of why they would acquire all the copyright wasn’t satisfactory. “The first thing I asked was: ‘Why do you want to take all the copyright?’” she said. “And when the answer is ‘that’s just the way it is’, then I’m out because that doesn’t sound like a good answer to me. It sounds cloudy. I don’t trust that.”

“Bless us, [creatives] want to share; that’s the reason why we are doing this,” she continued. “And when someone gives you the opportunity to share, because that’s your goal, sometimes you just take it. But I’ve learned to go: ‘What are the terms and what are the conditions?’”

When asked if it was hard to turn down the $1m, Coel said: “I just don’t care.”

When asked by Brand if she felt like she had a place in the TV industry, she said, “Yes, 100%. And that’s why I say I want to play whatever part I can in fixing this house.”


Lanre Bakare in Edinburgh

The GuardianTramp

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