The new HBO series 'I May Destroy You' starring Michaela Coel uses a riveting and unconventional point of view to tell the story of consent and sexual assault against women especially in situations like date rape and the assault of women under the influence of substance. The show, which follows Michaela Coel's Arabella as she tries to piece together what happened to her the night of her assault, will blow you away.
Coel wrote this show based on her own experience. It takes place mostly in London. Arabella is a writer working on the first draft of her novel when, during a night out with guy friends, she blacks out. She wakes up the next morning and as pieces of the night before come back to her in flashbacks, she quickly realizes she's been assaulted. The four episodes HBO's released so far have oscillated between focusing on the present, her trying to process what happened to her, and showing us her recent past, like how she met her Italian boyfriend months before the night in question.
This show kills it on a lot of fronts, but one thing I appreciated is how it demonstrates that people who have been assaulted aren't solely defined by their assault. Arabella's life is super full. She has a long distance almost-boyfriend, a whole group of friends, and a book deal. In other movies and shows that feature a sexual assault, the character can sometimes become only that—a victim. Let's take Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones as an example. Not only was the depiction of her rape incredibly brutal, but after she survived it, it defined the rest of her plot line on the show. It became her origin story, in a way. Granted, GoT and I May Destroy You are very different shows. But this show, at least what I've seen so far, works really hard to show you that no person is the one thing that happened to them. That's incredibly refreshing.
It also shows the weird and devastating process of trying to move forward when something terrible has happened to you. At one point Arabella goes to therapy, where her doctor suggests doing crafts or yoga when she gets overwhelmed. There's a certain comedy to watching her try to do all these things that are so unnatural to her. Like, if you don't regularly paint, it's pretty weird to do that as part of your grief process, even if it does end up helping you. And in one episode, Arabella even hooks up with someone else. Too often, shows that depict assault don't explore what it's like to be intimate with other people after that.
I May Destroy You shows such a full picture of Arabella's life that you can't help but be sucked in to her world, and want to follow her on this journey while she reexamines her life.