Why the film industry blatantly ignores the avant-garde work of Black creators
Laviea Thomas
17:42 9th February 2021

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By now we’ve all read about that dreaded Golden Globe nominations list, and if you haven’t, let me break it down for you: on Wednesday 3 February the Hollywood institution announced its nominations for Best Television Series and Best Actress - and with no nod to Michaela Coel or her series I May Destroy You - it was the bleakest of disappointments.

Emily in Paris, meanwhile - a TV series based on a white cis woman spontaneously making a trip to Europe in hopes to live out her dream of finding love - received nominations for both. Now, if you’re just discovering Emily in Paris, know that you’re not the only one. Just a simple Google search and you'll grasp the plot of the show, which was respectfully entertaining, at best. 

In the same year that Emily in Paris aired, Michaela Coel’s self-made project I May Destroy You premiered on BBC iPlayer. Based on real life, autobiographical events, I May Destroy You is an earnest series detailing the triggering and unsettling reality of victims of sexual abuse. Tackling sexuality, drugs and consent in just twelve episodes of one series, I May Destroy You is confidently educational and concludes with the biggest epiphany. In short, I have learnt so much from this show. 

Actress, journalist, and producer Michaela Coel crafted a piece of TV stemming from her own traumas and converted them into an informative, emotive and authentically great watch. Not only that, Coel scripted a Black British cast of three protagonists, wrote, co-directed, and executive produced this masterpiece. I May Destroy You is a ground-breaking piece of television that tackles the ugliest, honest truths about being a rape survivor and all that surrounds it. In this series Coel tackles the various emotions and reactions of being a survivor, including denial, anger, self-sabotage, guilt and depression. In no series has this topic ever been executed so on-the-nose. At the very least, I May Destroy You deserved a nomination for Best Television Series and Michaela Cole a nod for Best Actress from the Golden Globes. Michaela is owed an explanation.

This isn’t necessarily to pronounce Emily in Paris a terrible show, rather to shame the film industry's continuous and ignorant dismissal of recognising the brilliantly executed work of Black creatives. The problem isn’t the script writers or producers of Emily in Paris but the film industry itself for failing to show recognition and representation where deserved. Emily in Paris was not a revolutionary watch: it was a generic storyline, easily executed, with a white woman as the protagonist, and yet it has now received nominations for awards in excellence. Excuse me while I try to handle the extreme sense of déjà vu I’m currently having.  

What is so difficult for the Golden Globes to understand here? A common question I see a lot of us ask is: what more could Coel have done to be deemed ‘worthy’ of this award? What more can a Black woman do to be acknowledged for her craftmanship? Why does the graft of a Black woman come with such a stomping amount of expectation in contrast to her white peers? I’ve noticed that while these are all imperative queries, the real question we should be asking is why, again, are award shows too incompetent to acknowledge the work of Black creatives? We shouldn’t be questioning what more Coel could have done, but rather ask why the film industry blatantly ignores the avant-garde work of black creators. 

The issue here is much more deep rooted than that: at the surface we see a white actress flourish at the top of a food chain that is already designed to praise her success while the blatant hard work and labour of a Black curator, producer, and director goes completely unrecognised. The receipts of Coel’s work ethic are all there, yet they aren’t being read. 

Year after year, we continue to meet these problems with the film industry and its award institutions. In 2021, we must again say: something needs to drastically change.

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Photo: Press