Monday 26 August 2019

Michaela Coel: Too early to say if my MacTaggart lecture has had an impact

The Chewing Gum creator was interviewed the day after her MacTaggart speech.

Michaela Coel gave the MacTaggart lecture on Wednesday evening (Edinburgh TV Festival)
Michaela Coel gave the MacTaggart lecture on Wednesday evening (Edinburgh TV Festival)

By Kerri-Ann Roper, Press Association Entertainment Editor

Actress Michaela Coel has said it is “too early” to say if people have taken on board some of the topics she addressed in a keynote speech she delivered on Wednesday.

The Chewing Gum writer was speaking the day after she delivered the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, during an interview hosted by actor and comedian Katy Brand.

During her speech on Wednesday she claimed she was sexually assaulted by strangers, but did not say when or where.

The 30-year-old was the youngest and only the fifth woman to deliver the MacTaggart speech.

She was also the first from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

Coel did not address her revelations in her post-MacTaggart interview, but told Brand, when asked if she was happy with the response: “It’s way too early to say, I mean, I don’t know.

“I gave the speech, you know, the MacTaggart board were happy, I then went to my mate’s house and we chilled.

“Even just in doing it, I mean, I had to think and research and call people, because I didn’t understand, you know, it made me ask people why.

“And then when you realise other people haven’t asked why, you realise questions are really important, and that’s what this allowed me to do.

“I’d never heard of the MacTaggart lecture, I’d never heard of James MacTaggart. I assumed it was like a five-minute speech and my agent was like, no.

“That amount of time to say something means you have so much thinking to do, that’s why I said in the speech, the urgency is instilled in me to learn, I learned so much.”

Coel has appeared in Channel 4 drama Top Boy, and had leading roles at the National Theatre. She will next appear in mini-series Black Earth Rising, opposite John Goodman.

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During her interview, she also spoke about how “silence became very important” to her in the early stages of her career, because it allowed her to “redirect my life into a place I felt more comfortable going in”.

She told Brand that while she is no longer a Christian, finding those “moments of quiet” may have stemmed from the practice of praying earlier on in her life.

She said: “It would probably have something to do with that, with that kind of, you know, maybe (it’s) to do with praying, once you remove the Bible thing, you’re just sitting there.”

Recalling her earlier days, she told an anecdote about a poem she had written that she wanted to read in a Christian pub in London.

She said: “I became a Christian at 17 or 18 and started reading the Bible and then I read Psalms and then I was like, I like these Psalms, and I wrote a poem called I Am Beautiful, and it was about encouraging people to be aware of their beauty, not because of what they looked like.

“That was me becoming a writer. I went into a Christian pub in Ealing with my Bible and I had my poem, and I went into this pub and I said I would like to read my poem and they said no.

“I walked away and then they went, ‘come here, let us hear the first few lines’. They let me do it. They let me stand there and read the f****** poem.”

Coel said she had only this year established her own production company, adding it was not “because I want to build an empire from it”, but because she wanted to look after the projects she created.

She said: “It’s a way to kind of try to be, try to create a transparent space between people you’re working with who also want transparency.

“I’ve had to learn to seek out people who are willing to be transparent and that often comes at the risk of losing everything, but I don’t mind because I would rather have transparency.”

The actress spoke about “stripping” back aspects of her life: “Just bringing everything down, there’s a bit more freedom to make the choices you want to make. I think it’s important to think about what we feel we need and why.”

On Wednesday the BBC announced that Coel will write and star in a series, with the working title of Jan 22nd, that will explore the issue of sexual consent.

PA Media

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