Michaela Coel’s Emmy win is a double-edged sword

Written by Florie Mwanza

I May Destroy You added another award to its tally at the 2021 Emmy Awards however, Michaela Coel’s well deserved win comes with a frustrating awareness of how limited these TV awards tend to be.  

Michaela Coel became the first Black woman to receive the award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for her series I May Destroy You at the 2021 Emmy Awards.

During a year where many of us used TV to escape the horrors of the pandemic, I May Destroy You drew viewers in with its honest and poignant exploration of the aftermath of a traumatic sexual assault. Coel created, wrote, co-directed, and starred in the 12-episode series, which drew inspiration from her own experience as a sexual assault survivor. The actor marked her Emmy win with a speech that was dedicated to “every single survivor of sexual assault”, but whose content was aimed at writers – and struck a chord with many.

She said: “In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others, to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in-turn feel the need to be constantly visible – for visibility these day seems to somehow equate to success – do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence.”

The powerhouse knows a thing or two about being sure of yourself and shutting out the noise. She has famously said that in the process of writing the drama – which took 191 drafts – she turned down $1million from Netflix and fired her then-agent for pushing her into a deal that wouldn’t have allowed her to retain any of the copyright.

Coel’s win in the writing category is only one of the four awards I May Destroy You was nominated for last night. And, despite being a landmark win for Black creators, it is one of very few standout wins on a night that boasted diverse nominations. Most notably, actors including Jurnee Smollet (Lovecraft Country) and MJ Rodriguez (Pose) were snubbed in acting categories with the 12 leading and supporting acting awards going to all-white actors, prompting people on social media to share their disappointment using the hashtag #EmmysSoWhite.

Many tweets call out how unacceptable it is for leading award shows to pat themselves on the back for nominating record numbers of diverse talent, only for them to be snubbed in favour of their white counterparts. After a year in which countless organisations posted black squares and pledged to champion equality for non-white players in Hollywood, it’s disappointing to see a lack of follow-through from the Emmys. But, we hope the response to their treatment of Black creators will inspire future award shows to act equitably.

One user shares her disappointment at seeing very little change in who entertainment shows choose to hand out prizes to.

Popculture enthusiast Ashley K. Smalls shares moving words from Viola Davis’ Oscar speech.

Bolu Babalola, writer and director shares her joy at Coel’s win.

Image: Getty / Rich Fury

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