HBO series “I May Destroy You” spoilers ahead
After months of dealing with a stalled kitchen renovation, one holiday weekend, in my temporary hold up I found myself scrolling through Twitter. Post after post in my timeline suggesting that HBO’s newest series, “I May Destroy You,” is a must-watch.
To be honest, I had not planned on viewing this series. I am binge-watch fatigued and I just couldn’t afford to add to an already long list of series to follow. Also, the previews didn’t do justice to what would ultimately reveal itself to be one of the most important bodies of work of our time.
Minutes into the first episode I found myself enthralled in what would become the representation that many before have strived for, but rarely, if ever, achieved. The ability to illustrate and illuminate the powerful range of being a young Black female, without ever using these identifiers. I cuddled up not noticing that time had passed. Two hours later, I’m four episodes in, marvelling and in awe of the sheer masterpiece and talent that is Michaela Coel.
Yet, I still had difficulties relaying why “I May Destroy You” is a must-see. I’d tell friends, “This is the best thing you’re going to see all year.” And when they asked, “What’s it about?” I would fumble for words and respond saying something close to, “It replays the night in which the protagonist, Arabella “Bella,” was sexually assaulted after being drugged and how she heals through the process.” Knowing though that it is so much more than that. It’s how Arabella’s relationships are explored. It’s about a young Black female lead who is experiencing career growth, but is derailed by this trauma and it’s how the past directs our present and future. Yet several episodes in, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m not certain about the true relevance of its title? Which begs the question, is the audience, the “you”, being destroyed?
If so, then the episode that “destroyed” me, would be episode 8, “Line Spectrum Border.” I was “destroyed” because I saw myself or a version of past experiences and I felt Bella’s pain. I wasn’t expecting that. For one, I have never been sexually assaulted. The older I get and the more I speak openly with other women, it’s sad to say that I’m among a very privileged few. Sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention, however, is a daily occurance every time I step out my door. This I’ve learned without being taught comes with the territory of being a woman. Yet, other than human empathy, I still couldn’t explain why that episode — where she learned that her rape case would be closed without being solved and the emotional toll that followed — moved me beyond words. I felt the violation, rejection, indifference, the numbness. I felt Bella’s entitlement to her (ex) lover, her lust, her anger, her disappointment, the weight of the expectations of others and having to move forward in spite of it all.
Coel’s recent visit to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah not only provided answers, but the interview also revealed so much more about the core of the matter and then gave even more to peel away. I was excited to learn that I was not alone in not being able to put into words what the series is about. The two, Coel and Noah, described it perfectly, “It’s about everything.” After that, I found the words to describe how I felt after episode 8, “theft of consent.” Throughout the series, each character is on the receiving end of having information withheld in exchange for sexual consent and even more traumatic, after Bella’s sexual assault.
While the characters represent the complexity of human nature, the behavior and practice have real life consequences. Theft of consent happens when deception is present and one is forever changed after what was hidden comes to light. This made me think; maybe I’m not as privileged after all and/or violation touches every aspect of one’s life. Theft of consent is not always exclusively of a sexual nature and not all sexual “miscommunication” is theft of consent. The idea of deception to achieve personal gain isn’t a new phenomenon, but social norms have now taken away the shame. We culturally accept, even welcome and dress up some practices such as “ghosting” as an appropriate way to end a relationship. This is not only unkind, but lacks accountability and respect for another being, and fosters the very nature of deceit and stealing consent. A violation so potent that it stings us into numbness. We see this portrayed by the character Kwame, who retaliates by using deceit — withholding his sexual orientation to “feel safe” — after suffering from sexual assault and theft of consent.
Yeah, that will destroy you and me too.