‘I May Destroy You’ definitely destroyed me.
Whew. Where do I begin? I never thought reviewing TV Shows/Movies and entertainment in general would make an appearance on my blog, but here we are. As an actress and an individual who is extremely passionate about all round social issues; I can't just separate this side of myself from the blog. So.
This show, ‘I May Destroy You’ got to me. I do admit I was hesitant to watch it at first, as the last interaction I had with Micheala Cole’s work (her E4 show Chewing Gum).. didn't exactly leave a great taste in my mouth. The show was full of extremely cringey comedy. Very crude and usually left your jaw on the floor after each episode. Not always in a good way. However, after coming across incessant positive reviews of this new show online, it drew me in.
I May Destroy You was a whirlwind of emotions. It centers around the issue of rape, sexual assault and the blurred lines of consent.
Just as I assumed, it was very raw and gritty in nature. There were many cringe worthy moments throughout the course of the series. Moments that made you want to curl up and die from the uncomfortability e.g. the blood clot scene (if you know you know). Micheala Cole’s acting choices are always going to push the boundaries. However as the show progresses, it can't help but draw you in, as it beautifully uncovers several painfully truthful stories. The storytelling is so complex in nature and shows that there are many layers to sexual assault and each encounter is never usually black and white.
One of the scenes that stood out to me in particular was a scene in Episode 3 where the infamous love interest ‘Biago’ escorted an extremely high and intoxicated Arabella (our main character) home from a nightclub. Along the way, our wild, fun-loving main character throws up at least once, urinates on the street, and can barely keep her balance let alone know her way home. But as you can probably expect, after arriving at Arabella's accommodation, the interaction ends in a sexual encounter (though not intercourse) between the two. This also comes after Biagio has shown zero interest in Arabella throughout the course of the episode!
In movies and tv shows, we are always led to believe that ‘the drunken walk home’ is a cute and chivalrous gesture. The perfect lead up to a romantic interaction. However seeing it depicted on screen like this, alarm bells rang in my mind. I could not comprehend what could possibly come across as attractive and romantic about a woman who is slurring her words, throwing up and barely knows her name. So why is this constantly painted in a positive light?!
If the roles were reversed, I cannot imagine seeing a man who is clearly not in the right state of mind, soiling himself and think “Yep. I would love to sleep with him 😍”. I’d be thinking “Let's get your ass home before you embarrass yourself any further.” But hey, that’s just me.
It also touched base on how consent can be a tricky concept. In this scene, as Arabella is starting to sober up, she is the first to make a move on Biagio. This can come across as consent at first glance, but upon reflection, it can be said that Arabella is not in a position to consent to sexual activity, as she was on heavy drugs and alcohol the whole night. It could be said that although Arabella initiated, Biagio had a duty of care to reject her advances at that moment and say no. Did Biagio take advantage of Arabella as he knew the position she was in? Was Arabella in the right mind to consent to everything that happened even though she did verbally? It makes you think and truly gives you no answers. Just room to explore what you think would be right in that moment. Which will differ from person to person.
Another scene that deeply impacted me was in Episode 6 where we the audience are transported to a flashback in Arabella’s childhood and an incident she witnessed in secondary school. Two of Arabella’s classmates 'Ryan' and 'Theodora' are participating in consensual sex in school (underage sex, and sex on school property nonetheless, is another issue altogether lol). Ryan then proceeds to take pictures of Theodora whilst they are in the act. We can visibly see that Theodora is uncomfortable with this. She stops him. Ryan then begins to complain as he says that he was told by other boys in the school that Theodora was cool with things like that. Then, he even offered to pay her money to let him do it. After Ryan's lamenting, she reluctantly agrees. (Hello, coercion anybody?). Theodora has her own plans however, because as soon as Ryan isn't looking, she throws his phone out the window so he has no access to the pictures.
Soon after, we see Theodora in the school bathroom where we witness her cutting her legs so that she begins to bleed. Terry (Arabella's best friend) notices this when she returns to class and reports it to the teacher. Following teacher intervention, news has gotten round the school that Theodora has claimed to have been raped by Ryan at knifepoint! Now, due to current world events, we know that accusing someone of rape is a hefty accusation that is going to be taken very seriously. Not only that, but accusing a young black man of rape (especially if the victim is a white woman) can be detrimental. The likelihood of authorities believing this story without a second thought, and criminalising said black man, is extremely high. So we as the audience are in a state of panic because we know he didnt rape her. However we also know that she did this as revenge because she was put in an uncomfortable position! What Ryan did was wrong! So what do we do?! What should we think?!
It gets worse. I mean better. Depending on how you look at it. Oh I don't know.
We as the audience then overhear a conversation between Arabella and her friends Terry and Marcus. It turns out Marcus knows for a fact that Ryan didnt rape Theodora.
How does he know this? Apparently, Ryan sent the photos he took to his friend Marcus just before his phone got tossed out the window!
Arabella is adamant that Marcus shows these pictures to the teachers to clear Ryan’s name. But in true black british fashion, Marcus “isn’t involved”. Arabella and Terry take the situation into their own hands and take the pictures to the teachers themselves. (Sidenote: this also raises the issue of black women always being willing to put themselves on the line for black men and black men never wanting to do the same in return. This is something we seriously need to talk about because I don't understand why? But let's save that for another day).
Luckily the teachers accept these pictures as proof and decide to let Ryan go even though the authorities are already on their way. They also let Theodora go scot free. White privilege strikes again.
(Picture from Danielle Vitalis Instagram)
This episode created such a moral dilemma for me because on one hand we’re literally dealing with child pornography here, but on the other hand, without those pictures Ryan wouldnt have been exonerated. He could literally be sitting in a jail cell as we speak, almost 10 years later. Again, Michaela presents us with the many problems that took place during their interaction, but does not present us with an easy resolution.
It can't be said that either one of them was in the right at any point in time. However if the issue of taking photos was nipped in the bud the first time Thoedora said no, it could have ended there.
To me, it raised a question about body language. As a woman, I could tell Theodora was uncomfortable before she said a word, and it is easy for me to say from there he should have known to stop. But could Ryan tell she was uncomfortable?
Personally, I believe that during a sexual interaction, men should be able to tell that a woman is uncomfortable through her body language, and should just know to stop. Especially since there is a large proportion of women who argue that it is very difficult to say no in the moment, and there is immense pressure to just accept what is happening to them.
Additionally, a lot of men use the phrase ‘you could have said no’ to defend their sexual misconduct with women, but this example brilliantly showcased what happens even after some women say no.
But truthfully, if we were going to make this the basis of our decision making in sexual assault cases, how do we legislate based on body language? If you don't verbally object to something, it can be assumed that you consent to what is happening.
Sigh. It makes my head spin just thinking about it. As a Christian I found myself mumbling “This is why God said we should just abstain from sex until marriage.” under my breath. You can't deny it would save us from a whirlwind of issues!
(P.S. I found myself smiling throughout this whole episode. Aside from tackling the tough issues, Episode 6 was such a beautiful and accurate depiction of secondary school as a Black Brit. It brought back so many heartwarming memories. Massive shoutout to Micheala Cole for producing this so well.)
Overall, I can't lie, I'm a sucker for shows that tackle social issues. I will love them regardless.
Still, I May Destroy You is undoubtedly one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.
In the end you are really just left with your own thoughts and ideologies of what is right and what is wrong. The show beautifully highlights how flawed human nature is and how sometimes, there is no simple solution.