7 Things You Might Not Know About ‘Chewing Gum’ Actress Michaela Coel

In some ways, Michaela Coel is the British Issa Rae. Both women are unapologetic about their blackness and bringing their experiences as black women to the light in a comedic way. Speaking of similarities, both ladies were deemed so undeniably talented that they created their own TV shows that they also act as writers for. It’s a beautiful parallel, and one that the British-born Ghanian actress notes in her recent interview with Fader, “I kind of worship Issa Rae. I hear the comparison a lot – that Chewing Gum is like the British Awkward Black Girl.”

The comparison is a great point of reference for people familiar with Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure, and might not be that familiar with Michaela Coel’s Netflix series Chewing Gum.

Coel’s series pushes the boundaries of humor and comfortability. She portrays Tracey, a black girl in London, awkwardly and embarrassingly navigating the murky waters of trying to lose her v-card against the wishes of her very religious family. Her character Tracey is hard not to love on a journey that feels like it could be any one of us, in much tamer situations of course.

The poet, singer-songwriter, and screenwriter is definitely a young black creative that more people should get into. Ahead of its return to Netflix this week, here are 7 things that I learned about Coel and Chewing Gum from her exclusive interview with Fader.

On some true to life moments that play out onscreen in Chewing Gum:

I had this guy that I was seeing; he texted me one day and I said, “I’m just with my cousin.” And he said [laughs] “How about I come over, and you’ll be the only black girl getting dick in the house.” I was like, “Okay, I’m unfortunately never going to see you again.” I always hear, “I’ve never been with a black girl before,” or, “I only go out with exotic girls.” I find it a little bit gross. It just means that you see people for their skin color.

On having the confidence to show her skin and body on the show:

Chewing Gum was based on my play [Chewing Gum Dreams], which was a one-woman show and I’m in my underwear at some points. So I think naturally, my line of ‘this is not appropriate’ is further away than your average writer’s. I’ve always been willing to make a fool out of myself. Maybe it’s due to drama school, clowning around. I went to Guildhall [School of Music & Drama, in London]. [I used to do] a lot of weird physical work, rubbing up on people.

On her preferred way to confront and depict racism through media:  

I think the foundations of racism are ridiculous. I also do know that racism comes with a lot of pain, violence, murder, rape, slavery — and those [issues] are covered by people that don’t write comedy. But I’m writing comedy and so I like to be able to tackle issues in the medium in which I’m being paid, which I think is possible… I think it’s important to create an awareness that sometimes we are fetishized by people. It creates a dialogue.

On the connection between Insecure and Chewing Gum:

I think by virtue of the fact that we are both black and female, [they are] going to have some threads of similarity, even though we’re across the pond from each other. The same is true for Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Even Get Out the movie — when you asked me about the [Chewing Gum] episode with the [racist] guy. I thought, There’s definitely traces of that in Get Out.

On Get Out and its empowering effect on how she perceives her beauty:

The reason I felt so amazing after Get Out was because I’m aware that I’m beautiful inside and out. [But] the reason why maybe my own race isn’t interested in me is because they have Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Before slavery, I don’t think [black men] looked at women and thought, “Urgh.” This has happened because of trauma in the black race, and I’m not gonna be mad about that. And that might mean that, hey, I’m a little bit exclusive, and there’s gonna be a couple of kings out there that will be interested in me.

There’s a few amazing black men out there that are intelligent and have done the math, have unpicked their mindset, and see things from a broader perspective. One of the things I want to say to all these dark-skinned girls who are actually feeling sad about that, is: Why would you want to waste your time on guys like that? Why would you want to waste your time with anyone like that?

On the lack of diversity in TV and cinema, especially in the UK:

My God, it is bleak, mate. It is bleak. Having diversity behind the screen affects so much. There are so many times when I’ve been on a set and I’m looking at the extras: You’ve got a hundred white and Asian extras wearing office-wear — so why are all the black extras playing janitors? People don’t see those things unless they are an ethnic minority. So many times on jobs, I have had to say, “Do you see that that’s how you’ve done it? You’re not thinking.” I can watch a TV show, and I can tell you: The exec, the producers, the directors….No one in there is BAME (Black, Asian, minority ethnic – British term used to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK). There might not even be any women involved in that.

On the importance of having diversity behind the screen:

My exec [producer] for Chewing Gum is black. The continuity lady was black, the production coordinator was black. There’s just a difference. I don’t mean to be a d***, but the atmosphere on my show…I feel it, and I know that my cast feel it. ‘Cause when they go to other jobs they’re like, ‘Damn, I miss the vibe!’

Catch the new season of Chewing Gum on Netflix. Check out Michaela Coel’s full Fader interview here.

Photo Credit: PR Photos

Sheriden Chanel is a twenty-something writer, Beyoncé enthusiast, and lover of all things visual art. Keep up with her and her musings on social via @indiebyline.