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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I May Destroy You is a series based on events that really happened to writer/star Michaela Coel, who in 2016 had her drink spiked and then suffered a sexual assault. Arabella, Coel's fictional counterpart, is a fascinating and sophisticated woman who regains some measure of control back by writing about her trauma, as well as connecting to fellow victims; she displays impressive compassion (for herself and others) and perseverance in integrating her experiences into her life. Her assault is depicted in brief flashbacks that are filmed to inspire sympathy for the victim, not the attacker, i.e. a man moves rhythmically and violently above a woman in a shot from her point of view. I May Destroy You also contains mature content in the form of drugs and drink: Arabella and friends frequently smoke pot and cigarettes, drink alcohol, and snort cocaine. Language is frequent: "f--k," "s--t," "hell," "damn," "bitch" (in a song), "dick" (i.e. someone being mean), the n-word (in a song). Characters are complicated and realistic; they make mistakes and live lives that aren't above reproach, yet this drama shows us that they don't (and no one does) deserve their assault. Characters talk frankly about sex, orgasms, hooking up on dating apps, romance, group sex, and other mature topics. Many in I May Destroy You are seeking recovery from trauma and this drama depicts the ongoing process in a way that's hopeful yet realistic. As a drama centered on black characters, including LGBTQ ones, and depicting sexual assault for male and female characters, this show offers important and all-too-rare representation.
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What's the story?
Written by and starring Michaela Coel, I MAY DESTROY YOU focuses in on Arabella, a sophisticated London writer whose book about millenial feminism has won her a measure of acclaim, and a publisher eagerly waiting for her second book. Her romantic life is a bit more fraught, as Biagio (Marouane Zotti), the man she considers her boyfriend, doesn't seem to feel as strongly as she does. After a trip to visit him, she assuages her hurt feelings in a night out in a club with friends. But then there's a black hole in her memory, followed by Arabella waking up in her publisher's office with injuries and dreadful half-memories of what happened the night before. Now as Arabella slowly realizes what's happpened to her, she works to seek justice, and to find a way to live her life anew.
Is it any good?
This portrait of how rape affects otherwise happy lives like some kind of metastasizing emotional cancer is powerful, singular, and indelible. When we first meet Arabella, she's lingering on a sidewalk waiting for her ride share to pick her up, hinting around to her Italian boyfriend that she's love for him to make some sort of committment before she leaves for her flight. He doesn't; she accepts the blow straight-faced and immediately opens her computer, to work. We see her go home, deal with her editors, leave to meet friends at a bar where she dances and drinks until she stumbles out of the bar and into the street. Cut to the next morning; she's at her publishing house, working on her book again. Whew, looks like everything turned out fine. But then we see her phone is cracked. There's blood on her shirt. And hang on -- is that a cut on her head that's trickling fresh blood down her cheek?
The truth comes to her in brief, devastating flashbacks; in between, Arabella tries to go on living her easy, breezy life unaffected. Spoiler alert: It doesn't work. She takes solace in her friends, especially Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), a gay fitness instructor who's linked to Arabella by their shared history of sexual trauma, and in her work, where she's able to find some measure of control in writing about her experiences. It should be said that Michaela Coel, the award-winning actor who wrote and stars as Arabella in I May Destroy You, has been open about the fact that in 2016 she took a break from work to go to a bar with a friend, then woke up hours later at the office, unsure how she'd gotten there and what had happened. Later she pieced together that her drink had been spiked, and she'd been sexually assaulted. Does this give I May Destroy You a meta depth and power? It sure does. Is it simultaneously devastating and beautiful? It sure is. Should you watch? Yes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies and TV shows that are based on true stories. Which can you name? How do they tell their stories of victims and victimizers? Are there any aspects of these narratives that are exploitative, sensationalizing crime rather than telling stories sympathetically? Is I May Destroy You an example of a sympathetic or exploitative story? What's the difference?
Rape is a common plot point in dramas. Why? Think of some TV shows or movies where a rape takes place. What was the point of the rape in the show? To ramp up drama? To motivate a character to do something? To increase sympathy for the victim? Another reason? What is the reason sexual assault is depicted in I May Destroy You?
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