Michaela Coel rejected $1 million I May Destroy You deal in order to own her assault narrative
The show is based on her own experience with sexual assault
Powerhouse writer, actress, producer and director Michaela Coel has revealed that she rejected a $1 million deal with Netflix for her hit show I May Destroy You.
The show is a comedy drama that follows a Twitter famous millennial hero named Arabella. Set in London, Arabella is working to meet a deadline for her book when she decides to take a break to have a night out with friends.
The next day she wakes up with unexplained bruises and a smashed phone unable to recall what happened, later realising she was spiked and sexually assaulted.
Following her attempt to piece the night back together, the show is based on Michaela's own experience with sexual assault while writing her hit Channel 4 show Chewing Gum for Retort, a company owned by FreemantleMedia.
"I was working overnight in the company’s offices, I had an episode due at 7am. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby," she said while giving a lecture at Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2018.
"I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky. 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," she said.
Despite spending two and a half years writing the show for BBC and HBO, she said it was a cathartic experience.
"It took me two and a half years all in all to write it and I didn't do any other job," she told BBC Radio One in June.
"It's been quite hard but cathartic because I'm reflecting on a dark time rather than feeling it is happening to me right now."
In a recent interview with Vulture, Michaela revealed that she turned down a $1 million deal with Netflix, and fired her US agency for trying to push the deal.
In early 2017 she approached the streaming giant to pitch the concept of the show where they offered her a deal up front. Upon learning that they wouldn't allow her to have any percentage of the copyright, she said no, feeling that no amount of money was worth handing over the narrative of her trauma.
She recalled trying to reach a compromise with the company by asking if she could retain at least 5 percent of her rights.
“There was just silence on the phone,” she told Vulture.
“And she said, ‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal.’ I said, ‘If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have five percent of my rights.’"
She then bargained for two percent, one percent and finally 0.5 percent.
The executive on the phone said she would have to clear it with her overheads before declaring that Michaela was doing the right thing trying to hold onto ownership.
She later found out that the reason her US agency were pushing her to take the deal was because they were due to make an undisclosed amount from the deal.
Later in the year, she pitched the show to Piers Wenger at the BBC. The next day he replied to her saying that she could have everything she wanted: "a seat at the table on the production side, full creative control, and the rights to the work."
After becoming untrustworthy of the industry, she took some time to consider, but eventually took them up on the offer.
The show premiered on BBC One on June 8th and is set to conclude after 12 episodes on July 14th.