The Gripping True Story That Inspired Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You

At the 2021 Emmys, Michaela Coel and I May Destroy You picked up the award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series. But do you know the real-life trauma that inspired the HBO series?

By Ryan Gajewski Sep 20, 2021 2:25 AMTags
Watch: Michaela Coel Will Be "So Happy" If Paapa Essiedu Wins at 2021 Emmys

I May Destroy You is one of the most-nominated comedies at 2021 Emmys Awards, but there's definitely real-life pain behind it. 

On Sept. 19, the HBO series' creator and star Michaela Coel picked up the trophy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series. I May Destroy You centers on a TV writer named Arabella Essiedu (Michaela) who struggles with moving forward in her life after she is drugged and raped.

In 2018, Michaela delivered a lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival and shared that she is a real-life survivor of sexual assault. She described a time when she regained consciousness and realized she had been raped while finishing an assignment as a writer on her series Chewing Gum, which helped inspire her newest show's story line. 

"I was working overnight in the company's offices," recalled the 33-year-old performer, who is nominated for both her acting and writing on I May Destroy You. "I had an episode due at 7 a.m. I took a break and had a drink with a good friend who was nearby. I emerged into consciousness typing season two, many hours later. I was lucky—I had a flashback. It turned out I had been sexually assaulted by strangers."

See the Winners of the 2021 Emmys

Michaela explained that she immediately informed Chewing Gum's producers, and some of them appeared at times to "not know what empathy is at all." She continued, "When there are police involved and footage of people carrying your writer into dangerous places, when cuts are found, when there's blood—what is your job?"

Natalie Seery/HBO

Last year, she told Radio 1 Newsbeat it took her two and a half years to write the 12-episode series. "It's been quite hard, but cathartic because I'm reflecting on a dark time rather than feeling it is happening to me right now," she said at the time. 

Ultimately, her goal with the series was to provide a sense of community for other survivors. "Part of my heart hopes that people who have had experiences that are traumatic watch this and feel less alone," Michaela told Screen Daily

To read our full coverage of the 2021 Emmy Awards, click here.

For free, confidential help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit