‘I May Destroy You’ Wasn’t Snubbed By The Golden Globes. It’s Just Ahead Of Its Time.

Michaela Coel’s ‘I May Destroy You’ runs counter to most of what TV has traditionally offered. Why try and ‘include’ a show that inhabits a whole different universe?

Rumour has it the earth just completed a full orbit around the sun, bringing us again to another year of Golden Globe nominations – or, as I prefer to look at it, another disgraceful year of snubs. I mean, is there anything more satisfying than running your eyes across a nominations list, tweeting that Spike Lee was ROBBED and congratulating yourself on your more evolved cultural palate?

For those of you who don't know, it feels pretty good. Which is why like many people, my first reaction to Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You being left out of the nominations list was righteous outrage. "Ridiculous!" I mumbled to no one, as I scrolled Buzzfeed's best celebrity reactions to the snub. I didn't know who most of them were, but I felt a renewed appreciation for their opinions. Exactly, Jodie Turner-Smith! Say it, Emmy Rossum! We must all come together and stand up for this work of unflinching art.

That's when I clocked the weirdest headline I'd seen for a while. "I'm a writer on Emily in Paris", it began. "I May Destroy You Deserved A Golden Globe nomination." I'm sorry, what?

Of course, a running joke born of this year's nominations is that Emily In Paris, a frivolous but enjoyable show, has been nominated for not one, but two Golden Globes: one for best comedy and another for Lily Collins' turn as Emily. Which is why we have a Emily in Paris staffer declaring I May Destroy You should've been invited into the fray.

To recap, we were now in the absurd situation where nominees were defending some of most virtuosic TV ever made; the equivalent of a primary school orchestra going to bat for Yo-Yo Ma. The dissonance was jarring.

That's when it hit me. Having a go at the Golden Globes for snubbing I May Destroy You may be cathartic, but it sneakily implies the awards are genuine arbiter of good and bad culture. Do we really want to be giving these lost souls even one sniff of legitimacy?

The Golden Globes, like most mainstream awards shows, don't exist outside of power structures. Nominations for the show are broadly collected by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a quite random bunch of people who for some reason all must live in Southern California. And despite their wildcard pick for Parasite, which famously won best picture in 2020, they usually skew pretty mainstream. In other words, it's a pretty old-school establishment.

Meanwhile, I May Destroy You exists on a completely different plane. It runs counter to all dominant narratives, especially what we're used to seeing on screen. While TV and movies have long been shaped by the perspectives of white men, I May Destroy You is the brainchild of a British-Ghanaian woman. In it, creator and star Michaela Coel zeroes in on the life of Arabella, and all the trauma, joy and healing that she experiences. It canvasses the life of a woman of colour in a way that we rarely see – she's not monolithically brilliant, angelic, good or bad. She's just existing; dealing with shit, pushing up against the world, winning, losing, making her way through.

Not only does the show focus on its Black British characters; it pushes the lives of their white counterparts to the periphery. It comes, as Bolu Babalola writes, with "Blackness and Britishness infused in its essence". Coel also gives the show's white characters less meaty roles than people of colour; and sometimes purposefully pans away from the white extras in a shot – doing what white creators have done to us for as long as I can remember. This just isn't a show about white people, and I'm willing to bet its creator makes zero apologies for it.

Coel even breaks with tradition in her choice of camera lenses she used to film the series. "The origin of the camera was that it was made to make white skin visible," Coel told The Irish Times. "That's where we are with every single camera in the world". In going behind the camera, she took care to ensure that her melanated cast was properly lit. After many rounds of trial and error, she ended up tracking down a specific camera lens, the Leica, that was able to do her non-white cast justice.

In other words, everything about I May Destroy You clashes with what the medium has traditionally offered. In a white-led TV landscape, it puts Black characters front and centre. In an industry that has long failed to do brown skin justice, it captures our rich and complex hues. The show's subversive status is perhaps best symbolised by the 'nude' coloured band-aid that its protagonist wears in the series' first episode, a colour that of course is only nude from the vantage point of a white person. The difference between the colour of the band-aid and Coel's skin is stark; reminding us that this is a woman inhabiting a world that simply wasn't built for her.

So no, I don't think we should care too much that I May Destroy You didn't get nominated by an old school awards show like The Golden Globes. And I respectfully reject a version of the world where Emily In Paris is worthy of accolades and I May Destroy You isn't. That isn't to diminish some of the great TV and film that's been nominated this year, of course, and in the years that have passed. But there's no denying that I May Destroy You is a "textured masterpiece". It jolted our generation and will likely go do so for generations to come. Michaela Coel, meanwhile, is a force of nature. And forces of nature weren't meant to fit in.

Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer for MTV Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @purpletank.

More good stuff: 

'Bridgerton' Has A Race Problem

'Emily In Paris' Is So Bad. Why Can't I Stop Watching It?

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