Michaela Coel has been delivering genius work for years now and she doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Her latest project, Been So Long, happens to be a musical for Netflix in which she plays Simone — a single mother who falls in love with a stranger while having a night out in Camden. Coel recently sat down with The Grio to discuss her latest role, representation in the industry and her connection to the #MeToo movement.
The 31-year-old British actress revealed why taking the role of Simone, on Been So Long, had a lot to do with her connection to the Ché Walker, the writer of the musical stage play Been So Long from which the Netflix film was adapted.
“There were so many reasons for me to be part of this project. I had seen the play when it was on stage in 2009 and Che Walker is the only reason I am an actor right now. He saw me perform a poem and told me I should become an actor. He let me attend his master classes once a week and he introduced me to Arinze Kene, who plays Raymond in the film. We have been great friends for ten years”.
Coel expressed confidence that she had raised her status in the Hollywood industry where she can repay Walker for the amazing things he provided during the growth of her career. In addition to returning the favor, Coel shared her desire for the role of Simone to be played by a dark-skinned woman with no hair.
Coel went on to discuss the topic of representation within the industry, or lack thereof, by stating the work is limited within the United Kingdom. While the UK is home to an amazing array of Black actors, there’s a small percentage of them that make up the entire population.
“We are very clearly from African immigrants. We don’t mind farting onscreen or fucking onscreen. We are very open and liberal and we’re not tidy. I love representing mess because humans are messy. I never want to package a version of being female or Black or human that says ‘Look how tidy I am."
Earlier this year, Michaela Coel bravely affirmed her personal story about being raped while working on Chewing Gum during her speech at the 43rd MacTaggart Lecture at the annual Edinburgh Television Festival. However, she says it wasn’t entirely about her being raped:
"It wasn’t about me being raped to be honest with you. The truth is, I spoke about these things to speak about the effects on the work place. What happens when you don’t have any days off? How does it work in the workplace. That situation, for me, it was a chance to check myself. While I can’t find the perpetrator, let me look at myself. Let me look at things in my life I have the power to change. Look for your power and you can find it."
Coel proceeded to say, “I can only talk about such issues because I am over them. I found my joy through that. I have watched a documentary called City of Joy and in it, you see women who have been raped with machetes and they are laughing more than us. How dare we not laugh. When there are people out there with no vaginas or limbs left who are laughing and genuinely have joy, how dare I not have joy? How dare I not use this opportunity and this platform to share my real experiences and look out for those coming after me? It was simple. I felt brilliant. I love to share and I love to learn.”
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