Michaela Coel, star and writer of British comedy show Chewing Gum, has spoken out about being sexually assaulted while writing season two.
While delivering the McTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Coel talked about what happened.
“I was working overnight in the [production] 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,” said Coel.
Coel said she “emerged into consciousness typing season two” many hours later.
“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,” Coel continued.
After she informed producers what had happened, Coel said the production company staff started “teetering back and forth between the line of knowing what normal human empathy is and not knowing what empathy is at all.
“Writing felt as though I was cramped in a third of a trailer, a mind overcrowded by flashbacks,” she continued. “I needed to push back the deadline, it was already tight.”
Coel was allegedly warned by a member of staff that the company wouldn’t automatically extend her script deadline and she would have to ask for an extension.
“I wasn’t sure how damaging it would be to the company so couldn’t ask,” said Coel. “I was lucky, someone was transparent with me: ‘They won’t offer you the break,’ a colleague said, ‘that’s not the way it is, you have to take it.’
“I asked to push the deadline back and for the channel to be informed as to why. The deadline was pushed back, but the head of comedy never found out why.”
The production company later paid for Coel to have therapy sessions at a private clinic.
In a statement, Ian Katz, Channel 4’s Director of Programmes, described Michaela’s speech as “a powerful and important wake-up call.”
“She has raised vital questions about opportunity, support, transparency and inclusion that as an industry we must all address with urgency,” said Katz. “The experiences she has described in her lecture are not what we would want for anyone working with Channel 4 or any part of our industry.”
Katz added that the contents of Coel’s speech have started a conversation about the way writers and performers are treated.
“She has opened an honest debate about how we ensure that writers and performers, whatever their backgrounds, feel respected and heard,” he said. “We want an industry that truly celebrates difference and is accessible to all, so broadcasters and producers now need to work in partnership to act on the issues she has raised.”
Coel says she chose to speak out about her experience for the next generation of writers.
“I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part I can, to help fix this house,” said Coel. “What part will you play?”
Mashable has reached out to Hare and Tortoise, the company that produces Chewing Gum, for comment.
You can read Coel’s full speech here.
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