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I May Destroy You

British Broadcasting Company, 2020

30 minutes


Michaela Coel

Reading Time:

4 minutes

📷 : Pixabay

I May Destroy YouThe South Downs (WYVXUC39XFEKF3QY)
00:00 / 05:12

I May Destroy You


Image of show's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects


Image of show's tea brew

Thought-provoking movies and TV shows

Chris Chaisson


Many television shows surrounding young people, specifically half-hour shows, highlight youthful exuberance. Viewed as the most care-free time of your life, single adults in their teens, 20’s and 30’s party, go on road trips and even goof off at their jobs. The most common issues (breakups, layoffs, roommate discord) resolve themselves hastily or trivially. The general messaging behind these light‑hearted tropes is that at such a young age, actions have minimal consequences and are quick to overcome. Plainly stated, this premise can be easy to scoff at, but it nonetheless influences how we think.

Occasionally though, more serious shows illustrate traumatic experiences and the need to work through them. Though heavier in tone, these shows display the same youthful exuberance, as people who have suffered trauma still must live their lives amidst their coping. The fun and games simply take a backseat to the characters working through their suffering. Thus, a series like I May Destroy You exists simultaneously as a difficult viewing experience and a necessary step in preventing sexual abuse. The BBC production depicts the misconceptions that many young people have about sex, what it means, and the price many pay for it. They also show that processing your pain does not preclude living a full and enriched life.

Created by the immensely talented Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum), I May Destroy You centers around Arabella (Coel), a promising young writer living in London. During a night out with friends, a stranger spikes her drink and assaults her. Throughout the twelve episodes, Arabella comes to grips with what was done to her while attempting to recoup the joy and freedom she previously felt. As she reevaluates her subsequent sexual encounters, the show also examines the dating lives of her two best friends, Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia). They each meet various sexual partners and rehash details of their encounters to one another.

What stands out is how vital Arabella, Terry and Kwame’s talks are to their increased understanding of boundaries and etiquette. They all find themselves in the role of the aggressor and the submitter at some point. For instance, Kwame goes home with a straight woman without telling her that he is gay. When she finds out, she is incensed and throws him out. In reconvening with Arabella, she chastises Kwame and in doing so, helps him to see that he should be more forthcoming with his partners.

I May Destroy You has about as heavy of a subject matter episode-to-episode as any show could have. It zones in on the mental condition of its main characters, often more sobering than the dynamic goings‑on in the real world. Many sequences depict Arabella and her friends in disoriented states, whether it’s at a party they don’t wish to be at or overindulging in social media engagement. This feeling of unease may speak to young viewers, who experience anxiety from the constant pressure of interacting with others while trying to deal with their own distresses.

A consistent theme and important message of the show is the importance of communication. In showing these three young adults cope and lean on one another, as well as minor characters, for comfort, the series seems to be telling young people to keep talking and never believe that they must suffer alone. Additionally, playing different roles in different situations forces the characters to accept that even having been wronged themselves in the past, they still must take responsibility for hurting others.

The show represents several different identities but stars a predominantly Black British cast of various sexual orientations. The series closest to this genre may be one of its popular contemporaries, Euphoria, about a group of high school students coping with an atmosphere filled with sex, drugs and violence. Though these programs do not always provide the escapism that many viewers seek out, their displays of sex- and drug-induced trauma may play a role in pushing young people to be more communicative and feel free and empowered to make healthy choices for themselves.

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