While American award shows have been slower to recognize Michaela Coel (and, in the case of the Golden Globes, have since imploded after snubbing the creator), the Brits have the foresight to honor homegrown talent.
Coel won multiple awards at the 2021 TV BAFTA TV Awards on Sunday night, including one for her HBO series "I May Destroy You," which was inspired in part by her own sexual assault and has received universal acclaim for its daring exploration of consent and trauma.
Accepting the BAFTA for Leading Actress on stage at London's Television Centre, Coel dedicated the award to the show's "essential" intimacy coordinator, Ita O'Brien, who assisted the creator in safely bringing nuanced and realistic depictions of assault to the screen.
“Thank you for your existence in our industry, for creating physical, emotional, and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, and abuse of power without being exploited or abused in the process,” said Coel, who also received the award for Best Miniseries.
“I know what it's like to shoot without an intimacy director — the messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew, the internal devastation for the actor,” she continued, “and I believe your direction was essential to my show, and I believe essential for any production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”
Intimacy coordinators were once uncommon on film and television sets, but since the Me Too movement gained traction in Hollywood, the industry has largely embraced working with experts who act as liaisons between actors and producers to prevent abuse and ensure performers are comfortable at all stages of filming sexual scenes.
In the press room, the "Chewing Gum" star elaborated on working with O'Brien, telling Variety that having an intimacy coordinator allowed her to create a series that "looks harrowing, that looks inappropriate, while being totally appropriate, while being protected."
“I also think it’s a very vulnerable place for not just actors, but for the crew as well, because the crew may have had experiences and it triggers things for them, so having her there protects everybody,” Coel said. “And if you don’t have people like Ita on set when you’re shooting things like that, I think it’s quite thoughtless, and I think it’s really inconsiderate and it shows a lack of mindf
While Coel confirmed that “I May Destroy You” was a one-and-done project, she did say that filming the series “really helped me get past some troubling stuff” in her own life.
“What it allowed me to do was sort of pair something quite tragic with something quite beautiful,” she explained, “and that was being able to make a show and create opportunities and see everybody’s talents come together to create it. It kind of helped. It kind of replaced bad memories with really nice ones.”