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If you only read one thing today, let it be comedian Michaela Coel's lecture on sexual assault

She called on the media industry to change in the MacTaggart lecture.

THIS WEEK, MICHAELA Coel, of ‘Chewing Gum’ fame, revealed that she had been sexually assaulted.

Black Earth Rising photocall - London Source: Isabel INFANTES

The screenwriter and actor, who has just been commissioned to write a new show for the BBC on sexual assault, described how she had been working overnight on a script before heading out to meet a friend for a drink.

Speaking as part of the 43rd MacTaggart lecture, she said she woke up several hours later at the production company’s office and realised something was wrong:

I had a flashback. 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 the production company staff then began “teetering back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all”. (One member of staff allegedly warned Coel that the company would not automatically suggest delaying the script deadline and the writer would have to demand it.)

Eventually a deal was reached, with the company paying for her to attend a private clinic for therapy sessions.

“I asked to push the deadline back and for the channel to be informed as to why,” she said. “The deadline was pushed back, but the head of comedy never found out why.”

The MacTaggart lecture is a prestigious speech delivered by a prominent industry figure during the annual Edinburgh television festival. Coel described her journey through the television industry, from growing up in the City of London to being accepted to drama school and winning the Bafta for Breakthrough Talent by writing material that appealed to “misfits” like her.

Coel also described the experience of meeting an anonymous London TV producer at a party after winning a writing award.

I said, ‘Oh yes, nice to meet you.’ ‘Do you know how much I want to fuck you right now?’ was his immediate choice of response. I turned from him and went home so quickly I left my plus one. He called, upset. Someone called him a n***er. It was the same man.
Could my silence have encouraged this producer to push boundaries with women and black people further? This thought is uncomfortable, but I cannot block it out. I have to face it.”

Berlinale 2018 - European Shooting Stars 2018 Source: DPA/PA Images

Coel’s words are more important than ever, as critics of the #MeToo movement look to undermine its progress and achievements, following an admission from leading figurehead Asia Argento that she had a sex with an underage teenager.

The New York Times reported that Argento paid $380,000 to Jimmy Bennett, an actor and musician, who alleges that the then-37-year-old Argento sexually assaulted him in a California hotel room in 2013 when he was 17.  The two played mother and son in the 2004 film, ‘The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things’.

While the developments are sure to be disheartening for many, it should not stop people within any industry from coming forward. The issue of sexual assault will never – and has never – been black and white. The same too can be said for our understanding of the topic and its implications. It doesn’t invalidate Argento’s own claims of abuse against her. It doesn’t negate the strides taken in supporting survivors of sexual assault (it goes without saying that there is still a long way to go.)

Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement said on Twitter: “It will continue to be jarring when we hear the names of some of our faves connected to sexual violence unless we shift from talking about individuals and begin to talk about power.

Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.”

Power is also the common theme of Coel’s story – from the executive’s proposition of her, to the powers-that-be (no pun intended) deciding that the circumstances surrounding her late script submission weren’t relevant.

It’s time to move the focus from the shock of our faves being outed as serial abusers, and look at how the system encourages their behaviour while simultaneously isolating victims.

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