I had just finished embarrassingly weeping after watching Issa and Lawrence get back together in the latest episode of “Insecure” in May. As I wiped my tears, I heard singing, “Where is my shot glass? Can’t you see I’m taking shots?” It was a colorful trailer for a new series called “I May Destroy You.” I honestly had no idea what this show was about, but I saw Black characters and the brilliant Michaela Coel, so I was already sold.
The next week, I wrapped up my embarrassing weeping after “Insecure” and stayed put for the premiere episode of “I May Destroy You.” I was shocked to learn that in addition to Coel’s signature dark comedy, it also carried a darker lesson about consent.
Spoiler alert and trigger warning!
The series follows Arabella (played by Coel), a late twenty-something social media influencer-turned-novelist living in London. As she struggles to find motivation and inspiration to write her new book, her life suddenly turns upside down the night before her draft is due. After taking a break to grab drinks with friends, she wakes up with a gash on her head, a shattered phone and no account of the night before.
She sits at a meeting with her book agents with the draft she finished mere hours before. They’re confused by the ending. She rereads it and is equally confused by what she’s written. She leaves and foggily walks the streets of London in a dissociative state. People seem far away from her. She doesn’t know where she is. Someone helps her into a cab to get home. When she walks in her room, a flashback of a man standing over her and thrusting into her pops into her mind. “Hm,” she says, and then the episode ends.
She comes to the realization that she’s a survivor of drug-facilitated sexual assault. Someone at the bar slipped something into her drink, and then raped her. This isn’t the only instance in the series where characters aren’t given the opportunity to properly consent before sexual intercourse — Arabella’s friends, Terry and Kwame, experience assault as well. This vivid writing and storytelling speaks to the fact that, sadly, sexual assault isn’t uncommon.
Every 73 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted, according to statistics from RAINN. Statistics from the CDC show that one in three women and one in four men have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.
These alarming stats make a show like “I May Destroy You” even more shocking and revealing. Yes, the show’s topics might make some viewers uncomfortable, but the discomfort is necessary to address the underlying issue of consent. It affects everyone: women, men, singles, couples, members of the LGBTQIA community. Everyone needs to have the uncomfortable conversation about consent.
When looking at UNC’s more than 200 reported cases since 2007 (and not to mention the countless cases that go unreported), a show like this is eye-opening to several different types of assault and coercion that actually occur. The lasting effects that assault has on each individual are so well illustrated that you can’t help to be impacted while viewing. While each character’s experience differs, the message that sex needs an enthusiastic yes without the influence of drugs or coercion is a timeless one.
Three weeks ago when the finale of “I May Destroy You” aired, I earnestly wept at the story I was just told. The way I looked at sex and consent had changed forever — as it should for everyone.
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